The good, the bad, the sad: Newspapering for 40 years


Now, 40 years since its founding, The Martha’s Vineyard Times once again doubles down to its news-gathering overwatch on Islanders’ behalf. And once again, although a new crowd is at the controls, the job is the same, and it is a familiar one. 

Newspapering is comfortably at home on Martha’s Vineyard. And because Islanders are a varied lot, and they do not see their lives and interests and opinions as uniform, they are accustomed to their tales being told in competing journals. Indeed, they demand it. It is a centuries-old Vineyard habit, not likely to be abandoned anytime soon.

History makes it plain that in small communities, newspapering as The Martha’s Vineyard Times does it is never stagnant, always intimate, and always vital. As the Vineyard population has found itself hosting more and more seasonal visitors and residents, consider that in 1970 there were roughly 6,000 year-rounders, and more than three times that number today, along with a proportional increase among the seasonals, whose numbers are squishy. This astonishing tally only enlarges the importance of the close-up scrutiny by Martha’s Vineyard Times news writers who know the folks they write about, know the issues decided at town meetings, and know how they became issues. It is a demanding and intrusive task, a daily task that community news reporters do on their feet, at town hall, at the police station, at many of the most boring, infuriating, unending, soul-withering meetings where devoted journalists make it their business to know what’s what on their beats. 

For example, consider this way-back political clash detailed by Arthur Railton in his “History of Martha’s Vineyard”: “The Cottage City Star started publication in May 1879 in Vineyard Grove, then a section of Edgartown, Massachusetts. For years, citizens of Vineyard Grove had been trying unsuccessfully to secede from Edgartown and incorporate the independent town of Cottage City (later Oak Bluffs).”

A moment’s interruption, if you will: So, this six-town speck in the ocean developed over time six distinct, likeminded, separate municipal selves, each determined to make its own way, its particular way, down through the ages. So the Cottage City folk did not feel at home with the Edgartown whaling economy. The farm folk of West Tisbury could not make sense of the Vineyard Haven seafarers, and didn’t like paying part of what Tisbury charged them for participating, so they struck out on their own. And the Island’s earliest settlers gathered themselves in their ancient Aquinnah home. 

“Heading the secessionists,” Railton continues, “was a group known as the Vineyard Publishing Association. In order to further their political goals, these gentlemen bought a print shop and started publishing the Cottage City Star on a Washington Hand Press. The paper was intended to be a direct competitor with the Edgartown-based Vineyard Gazette, and to create support up-Island for the secession movement. 

“As the newspaper’s editor Howes Norris explained in 1885, the secession movement began so that the ‘then oppressed section of Edgartown might give voice to their sentiments and have an aid in securing what they deemed their rights ….’”

Ultimately, in 1885, the Vineyard Grove breakout blessed by the state at last, Charles Strahan bought the Star and incorporated it into his new paper, the Martha’s Vineyard Herald. 

The Vineyard Gazette, begun in 1846, has endured the longest (so far), although its ownership has changed over time, from its founder, Edgar Marchant, then to Henry Hough and his wife in 1920, to James and Sally Reston in 1968, and in 2010 to a nonprofit limited-liability company created by Jerome and Nancy Kohlberg. The financial backing for the purchase of the paper and the funds to sustain it come from Jerry Kohlberg, an early pioneer in the private equity and leveraged buyout industry, and a co-founder of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. 

This competitive tradition in Island newspapers has extended to conservation newsletters and to the short-lived Grapevine tabloid in the 1970s, whose tireless editor and reporter, the late Gerald Kelly, could by himself write an entire edition if, on a week’s publication day, his small staff let him down. 

Kelly, a political agnostic who could write about anything, and use up nearly every word in the language doing so, moved on, writing for the next-up publication, when in 1984 five well-known Vineyard businessmen founded The Martha’s Vineyard Times. And the editorial vision of the Grapevine was in essence grafted into the newly formed MV Times. The businessmen who founded The MV Times were Edward Redstone, owner of what was then the Martha’s Vineyard National Bank; Robert Carroll, an Edgartonian and owner of the Harbor View Hotel; Fred Ferro, Vineyard representative to the Steamship Authority; Al Brickman, who owned a restaurant and bowling alley on Beach Road; and state Rep. Allan Jones. Their aim was to counter what they diagnosed as an antibusiness attitude in the news as the Vineyard Gazette reported it.

My wife, Molly Cabral, and I bought the paper in 1991 from that syndicate, and sold a half-interest in the paper to Barbara and Peter Oberfest in 1994. They bought the remaining half in 2014.

“Our turn as stewards was an act of commission: We knew the Cabrals as Montessori parents, and had the chance to take responsibility for The Times and its role in the community, and leapt at it,” Peter Oberfest says. “In our 30 years, many challenges and changes to the business model occurred, but two things never wavered — the standards of journalism in place before we arrived, and the commitment to serving the entire Vineyard community, which, for us, made the whole enterprise worthwhile. And that’s why passing off the paper to Steve [Bernier], who shares our values, is so gratifying.”

The Oberfests sold the newspaper to Steve Bernier, owner of Cronig’s Markets, in 2024. Highly regarded, Bernier’s business by its nature acquainted him closely with Islanders and their circumstances across all jurisdictions. Bernier drafted a veteran newspaper reporter and nonprofit news executive, Charles Sennott, who has been a summer resident of the Island for more than 30 years, and a year-round resident for two and a half years. Sennott, now publisher at The Times, is the founder of the GroundTruth Project, a nonprofit news organization that is the home of Report for America, which has placed 600 reporters in 300 newsrooms in undercovered corners of America since it was launched in 2018. Both Bernier and Sennott are passionately committed to continuing the tradition of having The MV Times serve the year-round community as a watchdog, and to celebrate the unique and increasingly diverse Island population.

And so it is that the towns have arranged themselves comfortably in distinct and like-minded municipalities, all more or less agreeable with their neighbors.

Readers of newspapers in small communities have expectations. They expect to recognize themselves in the reporting that keeps track of their lives. They expect the news writers to live among them, to be broadly familiar with town goings-on, and with the difficulties and successes common among their families and town leaders. They want news coverage that understands and keeps a watchful eye on the ways they live their lives. They want it reliable and fair, and plentiful, with diverse viewpoints, even when they or their leaders misbehave. They want the good and the sad and the bad, but above all they want the Derby winner — that is, what’s true.

That’s the job. Always has been.


Doug Cabral is a former co-owner of The MV Times.


  1. Doug, Thank you (and the new owners too) for the effort to give us the Derby winner!
    I’m constantly flabbergasted that so many people think that social media is the news.

  2. A wonderful retrospective and important reminder of the noble mission of journalism in an era when what is happening in so many “news” places is corrupted and damaging to our way of life. Thank you Doug for reminding us.

  3. I’m going to stand on the soapbox one moment to say that a paid subscription is an endorsement of the future of local journalism- I see it as a minuscule fee to pay annually to keep this alive.

  4. I feel sorry for the well-respected and much-missed Doug Cabral that this week coincides with the most embarassing and antisemitic article this newspaper has published yet: the strong suggestion that pro-terrorist college protests against Israel and Jews are admirable and worth supporting. When Mr Cabral was at the helm of this paper, hate speech against Jews (“frothing Zionists” got right by the comment moderator today) was never something the island community of any religion had to worry about. Now even messages of thanksgiving at the MVTimes have subtle antisemitism thrown in, just for fun. It’s gone downhill since you left, but now the antisemitism is out of control.

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