Last words of a legendary newsman

Tuesday, January 8, 2019 - 13:54
  • Lee Jordan interviews Alaska Gov. Jay Hammond in this undated family photo. (Courtesy Jordan family)

On the day after Christmas, I opened an email from Lee Jordan.

“Merry Christmas, Matt,” he wrote. “Keep up the good work.”

Less than a week later, Lee died suddenly during a New Year’s Eve party, surrounded by his family and friends.

During my three separate tours at the Star since 2010, Lee’s enduring presence has been a reminder why we continue fighting each week to put out a community newspaper in keeping with his vision, so knowing he still took pride in the paper he called “his baby” is by far the most satisfying accomplishment of my career.

If there was ever an ink-stained scribe it was Lee, who started as a printer and became an eloquent editor and successful publisher whose weekly paper grew in the 1990s into a three-times-a-week force that briefly challenged the Anchorage Daily News for the Anchorage Mat-Su metro market.

When he started the Star in 1971, Lee’s main goal was to provide hyper-local news to the people of his beloved town. In an era when newspapers continue to shrink and die, I’ve tried my best to carry on that mission as I believe as Lee saw it. Like him, I think a community newspaper is central to an area’s identity. He once told me part of the reason he started the paper was because the Anchorage media ignored local sports. That didn’t sit well with the baseball-loving newsman, so he set about to change things.

In the Star’s first edition, he promised to provide a source of community news free of the “big city” filter:

“…We want to keep our readers informed on matters which interest or affect them. We want to detail the achievements and accomplishments of the fine people who live here. Unfortunately, there will also be occasion to chronicle bad things that happen to our friends,” he wrote. “WHATEVER the story, we realize there are two sides to every question. We also realize that our readers and the people about whom we write are human beings with ideas and feelings of their own. We pledge ourselves to fair and accurate coverage of news, giving consideration to the people involved.”

That’s not always easy in a small town, but Lee dedicated himself to finding the truth and telling stories in a fair and meaningful way.

“If there’s another view, we’re glad to consider it,” he later wrote. “If there’s been a mistake, we want to correct it as quickly as possible. If someone’s done something noteworthy, we want to see them gain recognition.”

Lee influenced every aspect of Chugiak-Eagle River life, and he was the primary architect of the intensely independent streak that runs through our community. He helped found the local Little League, the Chamber of Commerce and even brought an Alaska Baseball League team to Chugiak. From his longtime advocacy of forming a separate Chugiak-Eagle River borough (for three months in 1974 he was the area’s first and only mayor) to his steadfast belief in the power of local journalism, Lee’s entire life was dedicated to preserving and building a sense of place in the small town he adopted a half century ago.

After selling the Star, he continued writing, contributing columns to local papers, starting his own website and embracing social media.

“Impressed last night when Dodgers’ hitter Manny Machado, after striking out on Eduardo Rodriguez’ change-up, patted the catcher on the head and said, “good call,” then nodded in a complimentary manner to the 25-year-old pitcher, indicating ‘nice pitch.’” he wrote on Facebook. “Opponents, not enemies. Politicians, take note.”

He was unfailingly respectful, even to those who opposed him, and always allowed people who disagreed with his editorials — and there were many — their own space to share their views in his paper.

A community isn’t the buildings or the roads within it; if it were, Chugiak-Eagle River would be what Anchorage folks think it is: a wide spot in the road. Lee Jordan gave us an identity.

I didn’t get a chance to reply to Lee’s email. I guess like most people out here I thought he was going to live forever. But time runs out even for the timeless — even the most powerful voice in the history of Chugiak-Eagle River.

Lee’s gift was his ability to tell the story of the world around him, and he gave that gift to us by dedicating decades of his life to local journalism. For that we owe him everything.

“It’s not difficult to see why Chugiak-Eagle River is indeed the Center of the Universe,” he wrote in 2002.

And at the center of Chugiak-Eagle River, Lee Jordan was the star.

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Matt Tunseth is editor of the Chugiak-Eagle River Star.

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