As Capitol reporters dwindle, Alaska lawmakers grapple with rise of political blogs

Blogger Jeff Landfield of The Alaska Landmine works from his “office,” a public lounge in the Capitol in Juneau while talking with Alaska's Energy Desk reporter Nat Herz on March 25, 2019. Landfield said a legislative staffer gave him the black eye at a bar on March 22.

Political blogger Jeff Landfield sits at his makeshift workspace in a public lounge area at the Alaska Capitol. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

The press corps at the state Capitol has a new addition this year: Jeff Landfield, a failed candidate for state Senate who is now running a colorful political blog called the Alaska Landmine.

Landfield isn’t your average reporter — he once made the news for posing for photos in a Speedo. But he’s one of a growing number of political bloggers who are trying to fill in gaps left by Alaska’s shrinking mainstream media, posing challenges for both lawmakers and the bloggers themselves.

On a recent Monday morning in Juneau, Landfield was standing outside the chambers where the state House meets. And he was getting some attention because he had a very conspicuous black eye.

It was a souvenir, Landfield said, from when a legislative aide punched him, unprovoked, a couple days before at a downtown Juneau bar. Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, gave him a hard time as she walked past.

Blogger Jeff Landfield of The Alaska Landmine posted this photo of himself on on March 23, 2019. He says a legislative staffer gave him the black eye in a bar in Juneau on March 22, 2019.

Blogger Jeff Landfield of the Alaska Landmine posted this photo of himself on March 23, 2019. He said a legislative staffer gave him the black eye in a bar in Juneau on March 22, 2019. (March 25, 2019 screenshot by Skip Gray/360 North)

“You should have slugged him back!” she said.

Landfield took an unconventional path to his job as a political blogger.

He once lost out on a seat on a state commission overseeing judges when pictures emerged of him posing in a Speedo with women in Las Vegas; another showed his hands on a woman’s breasts.

He’s twice run as an outsider candidate for state Senate and lost. And just last year — while he was publishing his blog — he ran a state-level super PAC that worked, successfully, to oust an incumbent representative from Anchorage.

But Landfield has also gotten some real scoops, publishing off-color social media posts and statements by some of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s appointees who later had to withdraw from consideration. And, he said, he’s serious about his work.

“There’s so many things I know that I don’t write because I’m not sure,” he said. “I’m very cognizant to verify and get sources and get information about what I put out there, especially when it’s something that can have real-life impacts on people or on organizations.”

Landfield used to work in the oil industry. But he said he got political blowback from some of the provocative posts on his blog, which he thinks was one of the reasons why he lost his job in December.

And so in February, Landfield moved to Juneau to cover the legislative session.

Landfield is part of a burgeoning industry in Alaska political blogs — there’s also the Midnight Sun, from a former Fairbanks newspaper correspondent.

There’s DermotCole.com and CraigMedred.news, both run by veteran Alaska journalists. And there’s Must Read Alaska, a conservative blog by Suzanne Downing, a former spokeswoman for the Alaska Republican Party.

Other blogs have waxed and waned over the past 15 years. The liberal-leaning Mudflats site once skewered Gov. Sarah Palin, while later, journalist Amanda Coyne published scoops about state politics before taking a job with U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan.

Each blogger has their own bent. And they’re not part of bigger institutions that have defined journalistic standards and layers of editors.

Landfield said he thinks a robust mainstream media would be preferable to people like him — bloggers have to spend time selling ads, and they’re not exactly well-paid. But he said there are gaps in political coverage right now that he can fill.

“I recognize a need and a void, and that’s why I’m doing this,” he said. “If what I was doing didn’t have any purpose, or I didn’t think it was having an impact, or I thought it was a waste of time, I wouldn’t be doing it.”

Landfield does regularly break news that’s picked up by outlets like the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Public Media, and people have noticed.

Ashley Reed, a lobbyist in Juneau for decades, said Landfield’s blog, and others, have become indispensable sources of information for people like him, who work in Alaska politics and need to know what’s happening at the Capitol.

Taken together, Reed said, the bloggers are also helping to replace a level of accountability that has diminished as the presence of other media outlets in Juneau has gotten smaller. That diminished accountability extends even to people in his profession, Reed said.

“The (Anchorage) Daily News used to spend a lot more money on ink writing about lobbyists than they do today,” he said. “The newsrooms, they have a lot of blank pages to fill every day. The people that are your mainstream reporters are out there filling their days doing that, and I don’t think they have a lot of time to go out and play Woodward and Bernstein.”

One thing that’s different about the bloggers, though, is that they can have agendas and affiliations that don’t align with traditional ideas about journalism.

When Landfield ran for state Senate, he feuded with one of his opponents in the Republican Party primary, Natasha von Imhof. Von Imhof was eventually elected and now belongs to the Legislature that Landfield covers.

Other bloggers have targeted individual politicians or members of particular political parties with their posts.

The blurred line between political operative and political journalist has posed a dilemma to the lawmakers who have to work with the bloggers, like Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole.

Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, talks with reporters at a Senate Republican press availability in Juneau on Jan. 15, 2019.

Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, talks with reporters at a Senate Republican press availability in Juneau on Jan. 15, 2019. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Coghill, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, was one of the lawmakers who rejected Landfield’s request for a media credential this year. He said that decision was based on Landfield’s history of political activism, and what Coghill described as Landfield’s tendency to put his own personality at the center of his work.

Also, Coghill added: “I’m a straight-laced Christian, right?”

Landfield, Coghill said, “uses language that I would not use. He talks about people in ways that I find very disturbing. He has strong opinions. He doesn’t mind poking people. When you start taking people on personality-wise, it starts getting kind of dirty. And I just don’t like that style.”

Even if Landfield hasn’t been officially sanctioned by the Legislature, he can still roam the Capitol, not to mention Juneau’s bar scene. And he doesn’t need a press credential to get news tips.

Landfield said he’s not sure if he’s going to keep doing his job for the long term. He said he likes getting a steady paycheck and having other colleagues. But for now, he has work to do.

As he waited in the Capitol hallway, a new tip appeared in his email. It was about a man he’d already written about once — a convicted stalker of Bristol Palin who’d been hired by a state senator.

“According to this, there might be more stuff,” Landfield said. “I’m not exaggerating — I’m getting so many emails now, I almost need a filter person.”

The tip turned out to be legitimate, and a few hours later, it became a tweet.

Alaska has a lot going on right now.

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