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Story Last modified at 10:15 a.m. on Thursday, January 14, 2010

Former publisher recalls the Star's early years

Alaska Star


For Lee and Barbara Jordan, putting out the weekly Chugiak-Eagle River Star (later renamed the Alaska Star) was a family effort. Barbara Jordan said the family would work all night long Wednesday nights getting the paper ready for publication the next day. They often slept on the cement floor of their newspaper office. Today, the Star celebrates 39 years of publication.
Photo by Andy Hall

January 14 is a special day in the history of the Alaska Star. The first edition of the Chugiak-Eagle River Star was published 39 years ago today, and founder and former publisher Lee Jordan recently sat on the couch of his Birchwood home looking over a copy of that first paper while recalling some of the history the paper has recorded.

"People," he said. "Over all my years with the paper, the interesting and wonderful people of the Chugiak-Eagle River area made it all worthwhile."

Jordan, a former printer for the Anchorage Times, launched the Star with the help of his wife and family in a small office-supply storefront in the Slanker Building, which now houses Pizza Man, on Artillery Road.

"We did it all in that space," Jordan recalled. "It served as our newsroom, sales room and printing press. We had a Chief 22 offset printer and our own darkroom. That was high-tech for a small paper back then."

For nearly 30 years, Jordan put the Star out every Thursday, featuring local news that readers could not find anywhere else.

"I started the paper because I was disappointed with the lack of coverage of local issues by the Anchorage media," he said. "What little coverage we had in the media was slanted. We were looked down on by the Anchorage media, who ignored the area."

Inspired, he set out to put the first edition together. It featured stories about the city of Anchorage providing water service, a street light being installed at the intersection of the Glenn Highway and Artillery Road, and photos of a women's snowmachine race from Eagle River to Big Lake and back.

In that first edition Jordan proclaimed that the Star "Served the fastest growing community in Alaska." During his time operating the paper he has seen the area grow from a small outpost between Palmer and Anchorage on the Glenn Highway to a thriving community of nearly 40,000 people.

While he envisioned the future of the community in that first edition, he had no idea the role the newspaper would play in his life.

"I didn't look that far ahead, I had no idea I'd be in the news business for 30 years," he said. "I just wanted to put out a small-town paper about the place I called home."

Jordan sold the paper to its current owner, Morris Communications Co., in 2000. Morris also publishes such papers as the Alaska Journal of Commerce, Juneau Empire and Peninsula Clarion, among others.

For most of the early years, the entire operation was on Jordan's shoulders -- reporting, printing and distributing the paper.

Other than hiring some young boys and girls to delivery the paper and Marci Cresap to help with typesetting the early editions, the Star was a one man, or one-family show.

"It was all hands on deck back then for my wife and kids," Jordan said. "We'd work late into the night on Wednesday to get everything done so we could work most of the day Thursday to print the paper."

Jordan did all the reporting himself. It wasn't until 1975, when he briefly served as mayor of the short-lived Chugiak-Eagle River Borough that he hired someone to work in the newsroom in his place.

"I hired Ed Barker as the editor," he said. "I didn't think it was right for me to serve as editor and be the mayor at the same time."

The build-up to forming a borough separate from the rest of Anchorage is one of the biggest stories Jordan recalls the Star covering in his years at the helm.

"It was all people were talking about," he said. "The campaign, the vote and then the Supreme Court ruling that made it all invalid. That was big news for the area back in 1975. People are still talking about the area separating itself from the rest of Anchorage."

Despite the short life of the newly created borough, Jordan believes the Star played a key role in the area maintaining its identity.

"If it weren't for our commitment to covering all the local issues, I think it would be Anchorage 99567 or Anchorage 99577 instead of Chugiak and Eagle River," he said. "I don't like to boast, but I believe the Star helped the area keep its true identity as the center of the known universe."

A large explosion of dynamite in December 1972 at the site that is now known as Powder Ridge subdivision, Alaska State Troopers being forced to pay a cover charge to break up a Monte Carlo Night fundraiser hosted by the Lions Club, and the continued growth of the area are some of the most memorable stories Jordan recalls the Star covering.

"We covered a lot of things in my time with the Star," he said. "But for me the most interesting thing to cover and share with the readers was the people. People like Joe Kepella, who made the two troopers buy a ticket for the event before they could enter the Monte Carlo Night event even though they had a warrant."

While the focus was on local news, from time to time the Star captured a wider audience. In 1996, Jordan dispatched staff reporters and photographers to cover the Arctic Winter Games, publishing the Ulu News, the official paper of the games, daily.

In 1995 Star photographer Rob Layman captured the now famous picture of the Alaska Zoo's polar bear Binky with the shoe of an Australian tourist dangling from its mouth, the only known image of the incident.

Jordan attempted expanding the paper to reach more readers in the Anchorage Bowl, publishing two papers a week for seven months in 1995. To appeal to a larger group of readers, Jordan changed the name from the Chugiak-Eagle River Star to the Alaska Star.

"We had a more conservative position on the editorial page than the (Anchorage) Daily News, and there was a void left to be filled after the Anchorage Times stopped publishing," he said. "I thought we could increase our readership, but my heart wasn't in covering all of Anchorage. I wanted to focus on local news and local people."

Jordan still reads the Star every week, and he offered some advice for the current staff in the newsroom.

"I'm happy it hasn't lost the focus on covering local news," he said of the current Star. "It's still local, but there is not the coverage there used to be on local events. We used to cover Boy Scout award ceremonies, scholarship presentations and other charitable events. Now it's just about covering the news that is happening locally. I'd like to see more news about the people, the wonderful people who live here in the paper."

Since selling the paper, Jordan has settled into retirement and many faces have attempted to fill his role and replace his passion for providing local news coverage about local people.

Does he miss all the late nights and printing headaches? Covering marathon Assembly and community council meetings? Reporting on sports events and elections?

Not really, but when asked if he would do it all again, he was quick to respond.

"In a heartbeat," he said. "I have known some many great people just from my connection to the newspaper that I wouldn't trade that for anything."

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This article published in The Alaska Star on Thursday, January 14, 2010.

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