The Vineyard Gazette, the family-owned weekly newspaper that has been a prominent, much-decorated and enduring chronicle of Island life for 164 years, will be sold to new owners, the newspaper’s publisher Richard Reston announced today.
The buyers are Jerome and Nancy Kohlberg, longtime seasonal residents of the Island who live in and operate businesses from Mount Kisco, N.Y. The Kohlbergs have been quiet philanthropists on the Vineyard for many decades, especially in the areas of conservation and education.
A closing is set for today. The total purchase price is $3.5 million; $1.5 million will be paid for the Gazette real estate and $2 million will be paid for the newspaper business. The Kohlbergs have formed a limited liability company to own the Gazette; in addition a $1.5 million gift has been made to the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust that will allow the trust to buy and own the historic building on the corner of South Summer street and Davis Lane in downtown Edgartown where the Gazette has been published since 1938. The building dates to 1760.
Mr. Kohlberg said he intends to invest additional money in the newspaper, one of only a small number of black-and-white weekly broadsheets in the country that remains independently owned. Seven columns wide, the Gazette is still printed in its own building on a four-bay Goss Community offset press. The Kohlbergs intend to keep the newspaper business in the building through a lease with the preservation trust.
“My goal is to give back to the Vineyard and to the Gazette,” Mr. Kohlberg said in a statement. “I have been a seasonal resident of Martha’s Vineyard for more than half a century, since first coming to the Island in 1943. Throughout that period, I have been a devoted reader and great admirer of the Vineyard Gazette, which has been blessed with remarkable publishers. I want the Gazette to be a vibrant voice for the Vineyard community far into the future, continuing the wonderful traditions from the past, offering excellent, in-depth journalism, reaching the Vineyard’s diverse communities, and adapting, as necessary, to the changing economic conditions which are affecting print media all across the nation.”
Mr. Kohlberg said he plans to launch an immediate search for a new publisher.
Essentially the fourth family to own the paper in its long history, the Kohlbergs take the reins from the Reston family, which has owned the Gazette since 1968 when the late James (Scotty) Reston bought the newspaper from Henry Beetle Hough, the celebrated country editor who gave the Gazette its indelible stamp of journalistic excellence. When he decided to retire, Mr. Hough searched for the right buyer for the paper, and as the story goes he approached Scotty Reston and said: “I want it to go into a newspaper family and you have writing sons.”
Scotty Reston, a seasonal Island resident and New York Times columnist who twice won the Pulitzer Prize, and his wife, Sally Fulton Reston, happily bought the paper and became its publishers for 30 years, among other things presiding over many modernizations, including the change from hot lead to cold type printing. In the mid 1980s the Gazette building was expanded with a large newsroom addition built onto the second story in the rear of the building.
Mr. Hough continued to write editorials almost until the time of his death in 1985.
Beginning in 1975 Scotty and Sally Reston’s son and daughter in law Richard (Dick) and Mary Jo (Jody) Reston moved to the Vineyard and became Gazette editor and business manager respectively. Richard Reston had been the Washington and Moscow bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times. In 1988 they replaced the senior Restons as publishers.
The Gazette was founded in 1846 by Edgar Marchant, and except for two brief periods, the newspaper remained in the hands of the Marchant family until 1920 when the Houghs took ownership. The Gazette was a wedding present to Henry Hough and his wife, Elizabeth Bowie Hough, from Mr. Hough’s father, George Hough, who was the publisher of the New Bedford Standard. The Houghs, who met at Columbia University when they were both students, were the first mainlanders to own the paper. “They never lost the mainlander’s sense of wonder at Martha’s Vineyard,” wrote Tom Dunlop in a detailed history of the paper’s ownership that was published on the paper’s 150th anniversary in July 1996.
Much has been written through the years about Henry and Betty Hough, who steered the paper into its role as a distinguished journal of Island life. “In his lifetime [Henry Hough’s] name became synonymous with Island history, with the natural world, and with the unending campaign to save its character — by which he did not mean appearance, but way of life,” Mr. Dunlop wrote.
Far less has been written about the Reston era at the paper.
With their own strong family background in newspapering, Dick and Jody Reston took the Hough standards to yet another level, continuing all the traditions of journalistic excellence and building the paper into a stunning small business success story. And they took leadership of the paper at a time when the Vineyard was going through a period of explosive growth and attendant social and political change.
“I remember an early dinner I had with Hough because I was a stranger to the place and he said, I can’t go on anymore and I don’t have the energy to fight the battles that I can see coming down the road,” Mr. Reston recalled this week. An editorial written by Mr. Reston is published in today’s edition.
With the Restons at the helm, the Gazette was recognized repeatedly for excellence in journalism by the New England Press Association through the 1980s and 1990s.
The latest accolade came last month when the Gazette was named weekly Newspaper of the Year by the New England Newspaper and Press Association for the sixth time since 1990.
In 1988 under the leadership of the Restons the Gazette sponsored a Harris Poll to scientifically measure the pulse of the Island on a wide range of subjects including the searing issue of the day: unchecked development versus conservation. Still relevant and used as a reference today, Gazette coverage of the Harris Poll was comprehensive.
In 1991 under the leadership of the Restons the newspaper was runner-up for a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of Hurricane Bob, when the newspaper staff went to extraordinary lengths to put out a special edition of the paper covering the first hurricane to hit the Island in 37 years.
The Restons also firmly cemented the Gazette’s role as a teaching paper and training ground for young reporters, photographers, page designers and advertising salesmen; Scotty Reston famously called the newspaper a laboratory for young writers. Many who got their start at the Gazette have gone on to distinguished careers in journalism, business, the arts and academia.
Scotty Reston died in 1995. Sally Reston died in 2001. Two other Reston brothers, James Reston Jr., an author, and Tom Reston, an attorney, have shared ownership of the paper.
Jody Reston retired in 1999. Richard Reston stayed on as publisher until today. He will now retire.
“After more than four decades of editorial direction by the Reston family at the Gazette, it is time for new leadership and energy at the paper,” Mr. Reston said in a statement. Mr. Kohlberg’s stewardship of the Vineyard Gazette comes at precisely the right time. He has my support and complete confidence that the Gazette will flourish under his direction in the years to come.”
Mr. Kohlberg is well known on Wall Street where he was formerly a partner in the investment house Kohlberg Kravis Roberts; he left the company in 1987 and founded his own company and later a charitable foundation which is based in Mount Kisco. Mrs. Kohlberg owns an organic restaurant in Westchester County that began serving farm-to-table fare long before it was in vogue. They have four grown children, 13 grandchildren and two great-granchildren, one recently born on the Island. Their Vineyard ties date back to 1943 when Mr. Kohlberg first came to the Island.
The Kohlbergs attended a meeting held in the Gazette newsroom late Wednesday afternoon this week, when members of the staff were told about the change in ownership.
The holding company that owns the newspaper is named The Martha’s Vineyard Gazette LLC. Mr. Kohlberg has formed a search team to assist in hiring a publisher. More information about the search team and statements from Mr. Kohlberg and Mr. Reston appear on the Web site tmvg.net.
The only paid circulation newspaper on the Island, the Gazette is circulated on the Vineyard, in 49 of the 50 states in the U.S., the District of Columbia and in five foreign countries. The Gazette owns and publishes two other publications: Martha’s Vineyard Magazine, a glossy color lifestyle magazine, and The Best Read Guide, a pocket-sized tourist guide.
Chris Scott, executive director of the preservation trust, whose mission is to own and maintain historic buildings that are in active use, praised the opportunity to preserve the Gazette building in the heart of downtown Edgartown. “We have two landmarks, one is a building and one is an institution, the newspaper,” Mr. Scott said. “The trust will be able to make sure that the landmark building is cared for and preserved properly, and Mr. Kohlberg will be able to focus on the many needs of the newspaper.”
Mr. Scott said the building is historically important. “It’s one of the remaining 18th century buildings in the Edgartown historic district,” he said. “And for everyone today it is very closely associated with the publication of the Vineyard Gazette. And I think it’s terrific to see a viable, 21st century business operating in an 18th century structure. That’s historic preservation at its best.”
He emphasized that the trust’s ownership of the building and the operation of the newspaper will be distinct, just as it is with every other tenant who leases from the trust. “Whether it is Alley’s General Store or Boucle Salon, we have no role in their operation whatsoever,” Mr. Scott said, adding: “As with many groups on the Island that are individually considered to be Island institutions, their primary mission is not the expense of maintaining an old building and that’s what the preservation trust does.”
He credited the Restons for their generosity in permitting a bargain sale of the property. “The trust gratefully acknowledges the generosity of the Reston family in making this transaction possible,” Mr. Scott said.