Nov. 4, 2004–The information business–not just the newspaper business–Patrick Dougherty

Daily News editor addresses APW
by Elaine Rhode

“We’re now in the information business, not just the newspaper business,” the editor of the Anchorage Daily News told November’s gathering of Alaska Press Women. The winds of change are coming from online, and so far, the forecast is encouraging.

“The Internet expands our audience and gives us new tools,” Patrick Dougherty said. “Breaking news is possible again.” He gave the example of election night results streaming onto the Daily News” website from a reporter at Election Central downtown. Ironically, the online updates continued even as a localized power outage silenced the printing presses, canceling two of the three planned editions.

Expect to see more video, photo slide shows, and audio options on the website. In 2005 Dougherty plans to introduce a searchable database for all community calendar items now appearing in various sections of the paper.

Whether future non-subscribers will have to pay to access the Daily News website is a hot topic in the office, Dougherty admitted. Circulation distributed by mail has shrunk to nothing in lieu of reading the paper online. Obituaries are the most visited e-page. Payment may soon be demanded for these final write-ups.

Dougherty took the helm of the Daily News in 1998 after serving as its managing editor, city editor, and news editor.

He arrived in Alaska with a 1974 journalism degree from Baylor University. He co-owned the Alaska Advocate, a fondly remembered alternative weekly newspaper. He also worked for the Alaska Legislature and The Anchorage Times before joining the Daily News in 1980.

Dougherty edited the 10-part series on alcoholism and suicide in Bush villages, “A People in Peril,” which earned the Daily News the 1989 Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal for Public Service (its second medal).

Within a decade, however, the paper had lost its investigative fervor, he said. His goal as editor has been to return to that journalistic heritage.

Dougherty described the paper’s current strengths to include strong daily news reporting and photo design. He proudly pointed to the active feature section and especially lauded Heather Lende�s weekly column from Haines. The food section ranks tops nationally in papers with circulation under 150,000, he said, announcing a recent award.

His list of “things to do better” includes people profiles, military and teen coverage, headlines, and promotion of the paper’ content. He also plans to increase reporting of the Matanuska-Susitna Valley to serve the skyrocketing population that lives there but works in Anchorage.

Dougherty fielded fervent pleas from the audience to bring back 14-year columnist Mike Doogan and the Sunday magazine, We Alaskans.

“The door is open if Doogan chooses,” said Dougherty. “but no return of We Alaskans is being considered.”

Dougherty, who was the first editor of We Alaskans, argued that the promise to place the magazine’ stories in the daily pages is not hollow.”The people and money are still there,” he said. “But without 16 blank pages to be filled weekly, the urgency to hunt down similar content is gone.” He said that he found few Daily News employees who read We Alaskans.

On the other hand, the paper’s moose calendar is an obvious winner with a press run of 50,000 — and Dougherty defends it annually to perplexed officers at McClatchy Newspapers in Sacramento.

Patrick Dougherty

Patrick Dougherty