Sept. 2, 2004–Happy Here and Now–Mike Doogan

Doogan happy here and now
by Elizabeth T. Hedgepeth

The foremost orator and political speechmaker of the late 19th century, Robert G. Ingersoll, is noted for having said, “The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here.” Somewhere in Mike Doogan’s past he must have read Ingersoll because he is a living spirit in the way to live happy, in the here and now.

Doogan was September’s speaker at Anchorage’s Alaska Press Women meeting. He gave his audience the gift of laughing and thinking and pondering the meaning of happiness as he continues his transition from newspaper columnist to the new career he is carving. That new career will surely include writing because Doogan isn’t Doogan if he isn’t stringing a bunch of words together. He already has two books to his credit and a third at the publisher’s. That doesn’t include a collection of his columns, which was published as a book, simply titled Doogan.

Mike Doogan is a third generation Alaskan and an Irishman. When you think through this rich combination, you can understand why his readers have a love/hate relationship with him. That he is no longer available three times a week to share our morning coffee is a personal trauma each of us must deal with. He certainly has and he’s no worse for wear.

He didn’t realize, he told his audience, how much stress he had been under until he resigned from the Anchorage Daily News. The resignation came after 14 years with the paper in a position, he admits, for which he was adequately compensated and pretty much left alone.

Doogan realized that he just wasn’t having as much fun as he used to. This realization came to him after another in a series of differing opinions with his editor about the column. And, he said, since they are both Irishmen, he felt they were really reasonable during the discussions. While the latest discussion was not in and of itself that important, it did cause him to pause in one of those rare moments in life. In that pause, reflection became a surprise mirror and what he saw was not what he wanted to see.

So, after 14 years, more than 2,000 columns and 1.3 million words, Mike Doogan is making his appearance wearing a Hawaiian shirt and, to quote the man, “To hell with ’em. One of things about being unemployed is that you can wear Hawaiian shirts whenever you want.” And so he did—and does.

So a happier, decidedly more relaxed Mike Doogan shared his recollections with us over lunch. If you have your own column at a newspaper, Doogan said, most journalists would feel they’ve died and gone to heaven. However, writing a column puts a high premium on dependability. It also exacts a high toll. He explained: if a reporter’s story doesn’t come together by deadline, that reporter simply tells his editor the facts and they get something else to fill that space and nobody’s the wiser. If you’re a columnist and you’re supposed to be in the paper three times a week, you can’t go to your editor and say it’s not happening today. You learn to find your column material anywhere, anytime. Even your personal life and your family are column fodder. You live your life in a fish bowl of column leads.

He misses writing the column when materials present themselves and beg to be written. Like Governor Frank Murkowski’s airplane. Doogan explains, �What you could do with the idea of flying Murkowski Airways! And then I saw in the paper recently that the state of Alaska’s been given $500,000 to support marriage. Now, what is it that you do with $500,000 to support marriage. I suppose if a couple was having a lot of arguments about finances you could given ’em the $500,000 and you’d probably make the problems in that marriage go away. What? You have an advertising campaign: Get married. It’s good for you. And the other thing I’ve noticed because I’ve been watching all this stuff on the Internet is George Bush. He’s running based on what he’ll do in the next four years. What about what he’s done in the last four years? He doesn’t want to talk about that.”

So, what’s Doogan doing now? Basically, he says, he’s not doing much of anything. “People were always telling me that it’s great to spend the summer in Alaska. And, you know what, they’re right, particularly when you have a summer like this one” I’m hoping there’s something to this global warming stuff.”

Other than enjoying his favorite state, he’s got a new book that he says is floating around in New York somewhere and he’s looking for a job. He’s also enjoying reading newspapers. He’s cultivated a different perspective on the news. He’s becoming one of those people who used to tell him how to do his job.

On a serious side, he tells people he misses three things about his job. He misses the people he worked with because it’s fun being in a room full of smart people who are engaged in the world and doing something. He misses the benefits and he misses the money he got paid.

And most of us miss him. To his credit, he kept this group alert, even after lunch, delivering another quality product and entertaining us with his knowledge, his charisma and his shoot-from-the-hip style.