By Kathryn Skelton
LEWISTON — After four generations of ownership, the Costello family announced Monday, July 17, that it’s selling the Sun Journal and 16 other publications, including the Advertiser Democrat, to the owner of MaineToday Media (MTM), parent company of the Portland Press Herald.
Steve Costello said the newspaper hadn’t been looking to sell, but had worked with MTM owner Reade Brower for several years on printing, transportation and digital projects. When Brower made an offer, it made sense to consider it.
Calling the news bittersweet, Costello said the family decided it gave Sun Media Group the opportunity “for us to be part of a broader organization that has a deeper ability to do some of the things necessary for the future, on the digital side in particular.”
Siblings Steve Costello, Jim Costello Jr., David Costello and Maureen Costello Wedge are all vice presidents and owners of Sun Media Group, as is their brother-in-law, Ed Snook.
Janice Costello and Catherine Costello Snook are also owners but don’t work in the business.
New CEO Lisa DeSisto, also CEO of MaineToday Media, said Sun Media Group papers will retain their names. The two companies will continue to operate separately, including maintaining competitive newsrooms.
The sale to Brower’s RFB Holdings, for an undisclosed amount, will be official Tuesday, Aug. 1. In addition to the publications, it also includes the building and press at 104 Park St.
“These are landmark Maine institution newspapers,” Brower said Monday. “We’re really all excited about creating a family of newspapers in Maine that the community can rely on for news they can trust.”
MaineToday Media, with 320 employees, includes the Portland Press Herald, Maine Sunday Telegram, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. Brower, a Rockland businessman, bought that company two years ago from financier S. Donald Sussman.
“I think you won’t see a lot of changes,” Brower said. “If you look at what happened in Portland, we didn’t cut down; I don’t believe in prosperity through cutting. We think that we’re taking over a fine product, we’re not looking to dismantle it and I think that’s what the Costellos liked about this opportunity.”
Steve Costello said ensuring that the papers would remain independently-owned from within Maine factored into the family’s decision.
“He shares similar values in his commitment to community journalism, his commitment to employees [and] we felt like that fit well with what we wanted for the organization going forward,” Costello said of Brower. “After four generations, we’re really just stewards of the organization and we need to do what’s best for the organization, not just what’s best for us. We felt like this was the best decision for the organization and the employees.”
Sun Media Group has grown from one daily newspaper based in Lewiston to owning and operating 17 publications, including the Sun Journal, the Forecasters and Current Publications, American Journal, Lakes Region Weekly, Advertiser Democrat in Norway, Rumford Falls Times, The Bethel Citizen, The Franklin Journal, Livermore Falls Advertiser, The Rangeley Highlander, The Penobscot Times, Maine Women Magazine, 95 North and My Gen magazines. Sun Press, a commercial printing division, is also part of Sun Media Group. DeSisto said all of its 225 employees will be offered their jobs at the new company at the same level of pay and benefits.
DeSisto said there may be opportunities for the MTM papers and Sun Media Group papers to collaborate but that it’s important to preserve each paper’s identity.
Speaking broadly about continuing to invest in the newspaper industry, Brower said just as movie theaters adapted to the DVD, print, too, has a future.
“If you look at studies, a lot of retailers are coming back to print because it works in a lot of ways the internet doesn’t,” Brower said “People have a lot of trust in print. I sat down with my breakfast with a paper today. I think the new generation is finding where print fits into their lives; my son reads print on the weekend.
“We’ll just have to wait and see where it transforms, but the bottom line, I think, I’m convinced that communities need their local newspapers, whether they get their news online or in print, we have to – as an organization – figure out readers need to see value in that,” he said.
The origins of Sun Media Group trace back to a weekly paper founded in 1847. The Costellos’ great-grandfather started working for his uncle at what was then The Sun more than 100 years ago.
Wedge said she felt emotional in making the announcement. The four Costello siblings, who will stay on for a transition period, had newspaper routes as kids and summer jobs at the paper before starting careers here.
“We grew up here,” she said.