Former Anchorage Daily News editor Howard Weaver will be in town next week to read from his new book, “Write Hard, Die Free: Dispatches from the Battlefields and Barrooms of the Great Alaska Newspaper War,” released this month by Epicenter Press. The reading runs from 6:30-8 p.m. Wednesday, April 25, at Hearthside Books’ Nugget Mall location.
Weaver got his start at the ADN as a cub reporter in 1972. By 1979, after a two-year position as editor of the Alaska Advocate (an alternative weekly which also involved Juneau resident Rodger Painter), he returned to the ADN as managing editor, a position he held through 1995. The ADN won two Pulitzers while Weaver was there -- one in 1976 for “Empire: The Alaska Teamsters Story,” for which he was reporting team leader, and “A People in Peril” in 1989, for which he was chief editor. Weaver also navigated the paper through their intense rivalry with the Anchorage Times, a battle they eventually won in 1992, when the Times folded.
Weaver’s memoir leads the reader through these newsroom experiences, offering insights into the industry and the state’s history, as well as into the mind of one of Alaska’s most influential journalists.
Here is an excerpt from the book.
Long before the end of my first year in a real newsroom, I knew my teenage marriage wasn’t going to survive it. By the end of the next year, she knew too.
The first time my young bride choked back tears and sobbed, “You love that damned newsroom more than you love me,” I waited a split-second too long before denying it. She never brought it up again and I never admitted it, but by the time I moved out we both knew it was true.
My affection for the newsroom was instantaneous and my devotion never faltered. Like Paul on the road to Damascus, I was struck down by revelation: I belonged here, soaking up the well-blended cocktail of cynicism and idealism in a smoky, rundown room that looked a little like those photos of trailer parks after a tornado. The mundane world of city streets and Rotary Club meetings was eclipsed here by a daily miracle of storytelling fueled by equal parts of urgency, insecurity and ambition. No matter what you were before, here you could become a byline, privileged to add your words to those being delivered every day to doorsteps all over town.
“Come on, kid,” a veteran invited after deadline one night. “We’re done here; let’s go get drunk and be somebody.”
I was all for drinking, but I already felt like somebody: Staff Writer. It said so right under my name, often several times in a single edition. My dad, when he was sober enough to care, was proud of me, and sometimes I didn’t feel like the poor kid from a bad neighborhood any more. I couldn’t imagine ever giving up this feeling.
But inside I remained that insecure boy from Muldoon, and one day I would understand that the newsroom I adored was filled with f***-ups and fragile egos every bit as twisted as my own. Nobody came to work for an under-staffed, under-paid, overworked newsroom at the dying number two daily in Anchorage, Alaska because they’d selected it over all their other bright prospects.
A few, like me, were young and hungry, learning something every day and still naive enough to think of this as a launching pad, not a warehouse. Others were not.
Everybody was a drinker, most were divorced or headed that direction and as far as I know only one person — the editor — owned a home. The apartments and rented old houses we shared were interchangeably shabby: cramped and aged quarters filled with musty rust-colored carpets and slightly mouldering furniture — when there was any furniture at all. Wobbly old refrigerators were full of cheap beer, the cabinets held whiskey and our medicine chests contained extra-large bottles of Extra Strength Excedrine, often with the top removed and simply thrown away. A gray film of accumulated cigarette smoke coated the inside of every window, and unless the living room smelled like Pachouli it smelled of tobacco and cheap marijuana.
There was no desk available when I started at The Daily News. Instead, I shifted around the crowded newsroom to occupy whatever was vacant at the moment; I got up and moved without being asked when the venerable veterans returned. I couldn’t touch type (still can’t) and couldn’t always avoid the oldest manual typewriters where the most frequently used keys had been worn smooth. (Was this the “a” or the “s” key under my finger? Which is the “r” and which the “t”?)
A few months after my arrival, an old timer (probably 35, I realize now) passed me in the hallway, on his way out as I came into the newsroom. “Looks like you got a desk now, kid,” he told me.
A frequent lunchtime Martini drinker and would-be novelist, Dan had just finished a spectacular series on big-game bandits, ruthless mercenary guides who broke all the rules in leading trophy hunters — usually tourists — to prized kills. His florid, sanguinary descriptions and withering analysis had led to upheaval at the state Fish & Game division and brought telephoned death threats to the newsroom, and I was stunned to hear he’d just been fired.
Nobody told me to, but I moved into his desk anyway later that afternoon. -- from “Write Hard Die Free “ by Howard Weaver