Me and the Anchorage Daily News

In Alaska Travelgram, Travel Deals by scott

I received a call this afternoon from Julie Wright, the Anchorage Daily News‘s managing editor. She told me that after Jan. 4, 2009, the Daily News would no longer print my weekly travel column.

It’s hard not to notice the distress of daily newspapers in general–and the McClatchy papers (ADN’s parent corporation) in particular. Dailies across the country are having to make tough decisions about what stories–or industries–to cover. Long gone are the days when your daily newspaper could be all things to all readers.

It was 26 years ago, in 1982, when I authored my first column on great travel deals available from Anchorage to points far and wide. I was 27 years old. I’d traveled quite a bit–and I had plenty of stories to share with readers–along with some timely tips of how to get more for your money.

So, I’ve written for the Anchorage Daily News for about half of my life. That’s about the same story as my grandparents. My grandfather, Thor Merritt Smith, worked for William Randolph Hearst as an advertising executive and later as an executive with “American Weekly” in Manhattan. It was Hearst’s version of “Parade Magazine”. After leaving the Hearst organization, he was associate publisher at the Santa Barbara News Press. My grandmother, Mary Benton Smith, was the first female bureau chief for the Associated Press. During World War II, my grandfather was on Gen. Eisenhower’s press staff while my grandmother raised three girls (the eldest was my mother, Deanne) in Reno, Nevada. Later, she wrote for Pacific Travel News. They were a real “power couple”.

It was my grandparents who inspired me to follow a career in journalism, as well as planting the seed to travel the world. Theirs were big shoes to fill–and I guess I’m still trying to carve out a legacy to match theirs–a fruitless task, I fear. Part of their story included a 1948 journey up the Alaska Highway and a front-page series in Hearst’s newspapers. But that’ s another story.

But I’m grateful to the Anchorage Daily News in so many ways. Specifically, the weekly discipline of sharing my professional advice–with an ample dollop of my hopes and dreams–helped me develop some incredible work habits. Dig deep for deals. Cut to the chase. Put forth “news you can use”. Part of my job was to see and experience new parts of Alaska. It made me a bona fide “Alaska Travel Evangelist”. I’ve discovered communities like Wrangell, Kodiak, Cold Bay, Adak and Beaver. I have friends in Barrow, Nome, Ketchikan, Skagway and Homer. I love the Alaska Marine Highway. Below, sailing on the m/v LeConte between Angoon and Juneau:

The stories I’ve gathered from Cordova, Kennicott, Sitka and King Salmon will be with me forever. Here’s a shot of me in Barrow:

Here’s a great shot of elder son Drew, along with a friend, Kathleen, from Juneau, atop Mt. Roberts:

Along the way, I’ve learned quite a bit about the machinations of the aviation business. Terms like “part 121”, “yield management”, “equivalent qualifying miles” and “available seat miles” actually mean something to me.

When I started writing for the Anchorage Daily News, I was in the retail travel business. Remember travel agencies? They’re still around–but the business has changed quite a bit. In the meantime, I started publishing an email travel newsletter, the Alaska Travelgram. Today, the newsletter has its own site, as well as a “blog”, at

Also, my good friend Gary Blakely convinced me to start an exciting project called “The Great Alaskan TourSaver”. Together, we publish a travel book full of 2-for-1 deals. This year is our 11th year–we’re still having a great time. Learn more here:

It’s not surprising that I should receive this message from the Anchorage Daily News as I’m preparing for an international trip. My desk is littered with passports, itineraries, a Mexican cell phone and a handful of pesos.

In fact, it’s an exciting adventure. Once we land in Manzanillo, on the west coast of Mexico, we hop in a car and hit the road. We’ll be driving into “colonial Mexico”, where we’ll be celebrating Christmas in Patzcuaro. Here’s a shot of the view from our condo in Manzanillo:

My wife, Christy, and I are taking the whole family, including our exchange student from Indonesia. You see–we love to travel. We love to experience new things, eat new foods, think new thoughts.

These are the lessons I learned from my grandparents. I’ve done my best to teach them to my children, Drew and David. It was always Thor and Mary’s idea, you see, that travel was the first leg of diplomacy. After all, once you have shared experiences and you’ve discovered common interests, it’s easier to get along. Wouldn’t you agree?

So, if you’ll excuse me–we’re off to Mexico on Alaska Airlines. If you read the Anchorage Daily News, you’ll be able to follow my adventures in the jungle. I’ll be filing stories on the road. Naturally, we’ll also have periodic updates in the Alaska Travelgram. Heck–I’ll also be a guest blogger for a Manzanillo travel blog.

After January 4, you’ll be able to find the latest travel tips and scoops in my blog, at . Sign up for the RSS feeds, or get the email travel newsletter. It’s free.

As you might imagine, the Anchorage Daily News shares a big piece of my heart. In particular, I’m grateful to my longtime editor, Jim Macknicki. Editor Pat Dougherty helped me many times, as did former editor Howard Weaver. Publishers Kay Fanning, Jerry Grilly and Fuller Cowell were inspirations to me. I have many dear friends at the Anchorage Daily News–some of whom I worked with at the Anchorage Times in 1978, including Don Hunter, Jackie Kimbrell, Kathleen Macknicki and Fran Durner. I’ve learned so much from so many, including Leon Unruh, Sheila Toomey, Julia O’Malley, Kathleen McCoy, Wesley Loy, Elizabeth Bluemink and Richard Murphy, among others. I wish them all the best success.

With today’s economic landscape and the corresponding travel environment, there are some great deals coming up in 2009. I hope you’ll have the opportunity to follow our periodic travel updates here:

Share this Post