Vineyard Gazette sold to Kohlberg Family


Jerome and Nancy Kohlberg, longtime seasonal residents who live in Mt. Kisco, New York, have bought the Vineyard Gazette for $3.5 million, according to an announcement made November 25, by former publisher Richard Reston.

Under the terms of the deal, the Kohlbergs will pay $1.5 million for the Gazette’s real estate and $2 million for the newspaper business.

In a linked deal, the Kohlbergs donated $1.5 million to the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust. The Trust, which owns historic buildings across the Island, will buy the Gazette building, on the corner of South Summer Street and Davis Lane in Edgartown, that has housed the Gazette’s offices and printing press since 1938. The building dates to 1760.

According to a report in the November 25 issue of the Gazette, the Kohlbergs intend to continue publishing from the historic building, leasing the building from the Preservation Trust. The Kohlbergs addressed the Gazette staff in the newsroom last Wednesday.

The late James “Scotty” Reston, a New York Times columnist, and his wife Sally bought the 164-year-old newspaper from Henry Beetle Hough in 1968. In 1975, James Reston’s son Richard and his wife, Mary Jo Reston, took over the operation of the newspaper.

The news that the Gazette was for sale has quietly circulated for years. Until the Kohlberg purchase, the newspaper’s owners were James Reston, a writer who lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland, Thomas Reston, a lawyer who lives in Washington, D.C., and Richard and Mary Jo Reston of Sarasota, Florida.

Following a move to Florida, in February 2003, Richard Reston hired John W. Walter Jr., then executive editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, to replace him at the helm as editor and publisher of the Vineyard Gazette.

Mr. Reston dismissed Mr. Walter 15 months later, resumed the title of publisher and named Julia Wells, a longtime Gazette reporter, to the post of editor. In November, the Restons sold the Edgartown house that had been Richard Reston’s father’s occasional summer home, fronting on Davis Lane.

Not Rupert Murdoch

A front page story in the Friday issue of the Gazette, “Vineyard Gazette is sold to Island philanthropists,” announced the details of the sale and described the history of the Gazette. The story said the Kohlbergs “have been quiet philanthropists on the Vineyard for many decades, especially in the areas of conservation and education.”

An associated story, “A different kind of investment: Quiet financier reveals reasons,” described why Mr. Kohlberg and his wife Nancy decided to buy the newspaper.” I don’t know what life would be without The New York Times,” he told the Gazette. “I feel the same way about the Vineyard Gazette. If you’re here on the Vineyard, I think it’s very important.”

Mr. Kohlberg told Gazette writer Lauren Martin, “We think the Gazette is a very worthwhile paper, an enterprise to preserve.”

Ms. Martin wrote, “He intends to hire a publisher for the paper and to let the staff do the journalism without editorial interference.”

According to the story, any profit the Gazette makes will go back into the newspaper. “I’m not going to take a nickel, and I hope we can contribute to some of the things on the Vineyard,” Mr. Kohlberg told Ms. Martin.

Mr. Kohlberg is a financier widely acknowledged as a leveraged buyout pioneer, first with Bear Stearns and later Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts, formed in 1976 to pursue such deals, in which a group of investors buys all the publicly held stock in a company and takes it private, financing the purchase mainly with debt.

Mr. Kohlberg resigned from the firm in 1987, citing philosophical differences with his partners. Mr. Kohlberg, 85, founded his own investment firm, Kohlberg & Company, now run by his son and headquartered in Mt. Kisco.

Search is on

In a press release issued Friday, Mr. Kohlberg described the reasons for his purchase. “My goal is to give back to the Vineyard and to the Gazette. 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.”

The release said that Mr. Kohlberg “looks forward to working in coming months with the outstanding staff of the Gazette, under the editorial leadership of Julia Wells and the business guidance of general manager Joseph T. Pitt, to maintain and expand the presence of the Vineyard Gazette on the island of Martha’s Vineyard.”

Mr. Kohlberg has assembled a search team to look for a new publisher. The team includes Cristine Russell, a Senior Fellow at the Belfer Center at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government; Alex Jones, former reporter for The New York Times and current director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School; Peter Osnos, founder and editor-at-large of PublicAffairs Books, and former reporter and editor for The Washington Post; and Geoffrey Cowan, president of the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands and dean emeritus of USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

The job description includes the following requirements for the new publisher: “Preserve unique tone and aesthetic of newspaper, while seeking the highest level of fact-based, balanced and in-depth journalism on the island’s many social, political, economic and cultural issues.

“Become a ‘must read’ for all the island’s different geographical and socio-economic communities.

“Reevaluate and revamp the newspaper’s web site and electronic journalism.

“Assess journalistic needs and staff the Gazette, and other media properties, appropriately. Consider possible establishment of relationship with schools of journalism and greater utilization of the remarkable writing talents of Vineyard residents.”