With more than 280 years of history between them, two award-winning news organizations — The Sag Harbor Express and the Press News Group — have merged to form the largest media group on the South Fork, combating challenging journalistic times by pooling their resources to better serve their communities on the East End.
Sag Harbor Express Co-Publishers Gavin and Kathryn “Georgie” Menu will helm the new entity as co-publishers, aided by the Press News Group’s current publisher, Joseph Louchheim, during a transitional period over the next several years.
“All of my energy is going toward supporting and integrating these businesses, and helping Gavin and Georgie succeed beyond their wildest dreams — and I’m really fired up to do it,” Mr. Louchheim said. “Combining these companies under young and energetic leadership is going to make them both stronger, and that’s good for the business–and great for the communities we serve.”
Joseph Shaw will remain an integral part of the editorial leadership as executive editor of the company, which in addition to the weekly Sag Harbor Express and its website, sagharborexpress.com, will include the weekly Southampton Press Eastern and Western Editions, The East Hampton Press, and their umbrella website, 27east.com.
Along with her duties as co-publisher, Ms. Menu will continue to serve as editor of The Express and will also serve as editor of the company’s lifestyle and magazine content.
Press News Group sales manager Paul Conroy will remain an integral part of the sales department, leading the team alongside Mr. Menu, who will remain a sales representative for the Sag Harbor territory in addition to serving as co-publisher.
“The trend that’s happening nationwide, and probably worldwide, is that news groups are forming — whether it’s really large companies scooping up smaller newspapers, or groups of small newspapers banding together, as is the case here,” Mr. Menu said. “I think the connection these newspapers have to the community is obvious, but I think it’s more important than ever.
“If we can harness what we’ve done in Sag Harbor, and if we can do that on a larger scale, I think the South Fork will be better off for it,” he continued. “These communities that are facing tremendous change really need a good, solid community newspaper organization that’s reaching out to the residents, bringing people together and leading the way forward.”
The Sag Harbor Express: Small, But Mighty
When the first issue of The Sag Harbor Express hit newsstands on July 14, 1859, the war between the North and the South was still two years away. The railroad had yet to reach the village, and the bark Excelhad just set sail with Captain David Loper to hunt for whales.
Over the century that followed, The Express chronicled the decline of the whale trade in the village and its rise as an industrial hub. It covered the artists, and then the writers, who made the pilgrimage out from New York City, flocking to the countryside and establishing Sag Harbor as a destination for creatives of every variety.
As the village grew, so did The Express, changing hands, expanding several times and welcoming new technology in 1988 with new owner Gardner “Pat” Cowles, who also owned the Three Village Herald in Stony Brook at the time. The Express became the first East End newspaper to be designed and laid out using desktop computers, under the supervision of then-editor Bryan Boyhan, who became publisher and part-owner in 2000, and sole owner in 2011.
“If it wasn’t for Pat Cowles, none of us — not me, not Georgie, not Gavin — would be here. It’s through his generosity that we are able to be in the position that we’re in right now,” Mr. Boyhan said of the former owner, who died in January at the age of 82. “I’m happy to see Georgie and Gavin are keeping the paper thriving and alive, and I think that the merger with The Press is a smart one. I’m looking forward to this. I think it’s going to be an interesting adventure.”
Despite the fact that both grew up in East Hampton, Gavin Menu first met his future wife, Kathryn, while she was working as sports editor for The Independent from 2002 to 2004. In 2007, Ms. Menu moved to The Express as a staff reporter, followed by her husband five years later; he moved from the Press News Group, where he had transitioned from news reporter to sports writer to sales associate.
In 2014, the couple became co-publishers of The Express — Ms. Menu already was managing editor and Mr. Menu was director of advertising — working side by side with Mr. Boyhan.
“When this happened, it was a little bit of a mind-blowing experience for me,” Ms. Menu said, “because I never would have thought, when I was starting out as a reporter in my early 20s, that I would own a newspaper. It’s not even what you strive for as a young journalist. It’s not even in the realm of possibility. So the idea we could help lead this large, locally owned newspaper group in our hometowns is kind of amazing.”
Under their tenure, the single-flagship newspaper has thrived, with The Express Magazine series doubling in circulation and advertising sales, and the new “Express Sessions” series of community events routinely selling out — sparking community conversation on critical issues, including affordable housing, water quality, arts and culture, land use, and the overall well-being of the village.
As part of the merger, the size and scope of The Express will expand fourfold, doubling down on its vision for journalism on the South Fork — with the added strength of a larger staff and vast expertise, particularly from Mr. Louchheim, Ms. Menu said, who “knows the business side of this better than anyone.”
“I’m just excited to part of a team and a process that is looking to create four stronger newspapers and stronger websites and stronger local journalism that is locally sourced and locally based, and run by local families,” Ms. Menu said. “I just think that’s so important, especially in an area — and everybody knows this — that has seen so much change in the last 20 years. To ensure that the local newspapers remain in local hands is so important to all of us, philosophically, outside of us being the ones doing it.”
The Press News Group: An East End Institution
The 100-year anniversary of the Press News Group in 1997 welcomed Joseph Louchheim to the table as co-publisher alongside his father, Donald.
“It was never my intention to run this paper,” the younger Mr. Louchheim said. “In fact, my father did everything he could to talk me out of it. This has never been a family business. It’s turned out that way, but that was never the intention.”
A daily newspaperman his whole working life, the elder Mr. Louchheim had earned his stripes as a copy boy with The New York Times before reporting and editing as a foreign correspondent at The Washington Post.
He landed on the East End in the 1970s during an 18-month leave of absence, instead choosing to focus his attention on Harvard Business School and, the summer before graduation, escaped to his father’s vacation home in Water Mill. There, he learned The Southampton Press and its two sister weeklies — at the time, The Hampton Bays News and the Hampton Chronicle in Westhampton Beach — were on the market.
“After more than five years in Africa and Europe, with three children who had little familiarity with their own country, my wife and I thought living in a small town while running our own country newspapers would be the perfect way to spend the next few years,” Donald Louchheim wrote in the centennial issue of The Southampton Press in 1997. “Twenty-six years later, we’re still here and our oldest son is about to take charge of the newspapers.”
Under Joseph Louchheim’s tenure as publisher, the reach of the Press News Group–which at the time included two editions of The Southampton Press–was expanded to include the Town of East Hampton with the introduction of The East Hampton Press in 2007.
Together with The Express, the company’s publications will reach more than 40,000 homes across the South Fork and, with their websites, 27east.com and sagharborexpress.com, many thousands more in the New York Metropolitan region.
“The merger really gives the Menus the runway and the resources they need to take this combined entity and redefine what it means to be a quality regional news and events business on the South Fork,” Mr. Louchheim said. “They bring a plucky, entrepreneurial and youthful energy that will really benefit this company. I’ve been doing this, in one form or another, for nearly 30 years. I’m ready to get some new blood in management. I don’t think any company is healthy if it has the same CEO for 20 years. I don’t think it’s fair to the business.
“As energetic as you may seem, there’s always room for new ideas and new ways of doing things, and new energy,” he continued. “So I’ve always been cognizant of that, because as you get older, you feel like you know how to do everything. And I really didn’t want to fall into that trap of hubris and thinking I had all the answers.”
The publisher had been “thinking about a transition for a while,” he said, when it occurred to him to approach the Menus. As part of the deal, Mr. Louchheim will lend his full effort and support and act as a sounding board, pitching in as much or as little as the new co-publishers need, he said.
“When I purchased this business from my father, the one thing I really appreciated about that transition was the space he gave me. He said, ‘Look, you’re taking over this business and I’m going to step aside. I’m not going to second-guess stuff you do, and to the extent you want my advice, I’ll provide it to you,’” Mr. Louchheim recalled. “It wasn’t one of these situations where the old boss was breathing down my neck and wringing his hands and shaking his head and telling me that’s not the way he would have done it.
“That’s sort of how I see my role with Gavin. He’s young and eager, and I’m here to serve as an advisor and a mentor, and to help him really learn the business and guide him to success.”
Stronger Together than Apart
Last year, Mr. Louchheim approached Mr. Menu with the loose proposition — one that the co-publisher of The Sag Harbor Express said he never saw coming.
“I was very surprised,” Mr. Menu said. “And, along with my surprise, I was very flattered. But I was also confident in what we’ve been doing, because I think that it’s working. Once the surprise wore off, it was really excitement and, obviously, a lot of thinking about what was possible and what would need to happen for this to take place.”
In the coming weeks, the two newsroom staffs will unite, infusing their daily and weekly coverage — online and in print, respectively — with more in-depth reporting, while working to maintain the identities of the four individual newspapers, Ms. Menu and Mr. Shaw agreed.
“I’m excited. I genuinely am,” said Mr. Shaw, a 21-year veteran of the Press News Group. “I have said for a very long time that I think the days of newspaper wars among various outlets of community journalism — newspapers, websites — I think those days are over. We all sink or swim together, and while it’s tremendous to have a community that has this kind of competition, with so many great organizations out here, I think it makes sense to start coming together in a lot of ways.”
The merger follows the success of the East End News Project, a combined and cooperative effort by The Sag Harbor Express, the Press News Group and the Times Review Media Group newspapers to focus on the opioid epidemic across the region, in collaboration with Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism — which Mr. Shaw said “worked splendidly.” The content, which won regional and state awards, was shared among the publications equally and simultaneously.
“I think we will be better together than we are separate, and that’s the best you can hope for with anything like this,” Mr. Shaw said. “I think it’s tough for the entire industry right now, but we are surviving, especially on the East End. We’re all doing pretty well compared to some other places. It’s definitely a reflection of a challenging future. Going into a challenging future, you need to be as efficient as you can be.”
Mr. Boyhan has watched the East End media scene ebb and flow for three decades, and what has remained the same, and the most crucial, is the local dedication to community journalism, he said.
“As a journalist, I think of the possibilities,” he said of the merger. “It’s like an all-star team. If you get a strong vision about what these newspapers can do, I think there is a tremendous amount of hope for the future of journalism on the South Fork and the East End of Long Island. I think there’s a hunger for it.
“We are all struggling to figure out where the industry lands in the next five to 10 years. On all levels, the industry has gotten tougher and tougher,” he continued. “I’m 66 now. If I were 36 or 46, I might have a different attitude. But that’s the age Gavin and Georgie are, and it’s a great age to get in there and start slugging it out. If you have a model that you believe in, or a path that you feel confident about, then, hell, go for it — because it is a great opportunity out there.”
Despite a backdrop of unsettling times in journalism, the new media group is positioning itself to scale its newspapers and magazines, websites, and live events accordingly, Ms. Menu said, while maintaining their vibrant presence on the East End.
“None of us is an interloper. We’re not big New York City publishers coming in to run the local newspapers,” she said. “Gavin and I grew up in East Hampton. We lived for many years in Sag Harbor before buying our house in Springs. Joe Shaw has been in Southampton for decades. The Louchheim family is an institution in Sagaponack. I think that’s really cool and exciting–that these newspapers remain locally owned by families. What happens in these places affects my life and my family’s life.”
For Mr. Louchheim, his priority lies in preserving the future of the Press publications and ensuring that residents of the South Fork continue to get the information they need to make sound, informed decisions about the issues that affect their communities and their livelihood.
“I’m not worried about my legacy. I’m worried about the company’s legacy,” he said, “and I think it couldn’t be in better hands than with Gavin and Georgie, and the management team that already exists here.”