A lot has changed in Sag Harbor over time, but one constant has remained for 160 years: when you look on the newsstand, you will see The Sag Harbor Express.
The Southampton Press is a relative infant by comparison, with only 112 years on the stands. But its twin flagships, the Western and Eastern editions, along with The East Hampton Press, all under the Press News Group’s banner, are highly regarded both locally and across the state.
But on Monday, June 24, The Express and Press announced they would merge. The announcement caught onlookers by surprise and may signal a new strategy among weekly newspapers nationwide.
Sag Harbor Express co-pubiishers Gavin and Kathryn “Georgie” Menu will serve as co-publishers, while the Press News Group’s publisher, Joseph Louchheim, will remain on as a consultant for several years. For Gavin Menu, it almost seems like a logical extension. He met Georgie, his wife, at The Independent when both worked here in 2004. Menu went to work for The Southampton Press a year later, first as a reporter and later as an ad sales representative. In 2014, the couple took over the reins at The Express from publisher Bryan Boyhan.
“He’s a huge part of everything” Menu said of Boyhan. “He’ll still be in the Sag Harbor office . . . It’s important to stay in touch with Sag Harbor.”
Gardner “Pat” Cowles purchased the Express in 1988. It had been owned by the Gardner family since 1920 and run by the publisher and columnist Vicki Gardner. Cowles brought Boyhan in as editor. He became publisher and part-owner in 2000, and sole owner in 2011.
“Pat Cowles’s generosity made all this possible,” Boyhan said on June 24. Boyhan intends to stay on board until the end of 2020.
Executive editor Joe Shaw, who runs the Press Group’s newsroom, will continue to serve under the Menus. “When I was hired, I said three to five years and it’s been 21,” he said. “I couldn’t be more excited. It makes sense in so many ways.”
Joe Louchheim, 55, took over as co-publisher with his father Donald Louchheim in 1997, the 100th anniversary of The Southampton Press. “It was never about succession,” he commented. “I never thought of this as a family business. I’ve been here 30 years. I’d like to pursue other interests.” Louchheim said for the foreseeable future, “I’m going to work my butt off to set up Georgie and Gavin.”
No one involved sees layoffs or cutbacks. There are some redundancies, Louchheim acknowledged: both papers cover the Bridgehampton School, Sag Harbor schools and village government, and overlap with some arts coverage, particularly Bay Street. But both “have lost a few reporters” who were not replaced, in anticipation of the merger. The East Hampton Press office on Railroad Avenue will close, with the staff relocating to Sag Harbor.
The latest bit of news is another in a series of events that typify small-town America and the interrelationship of the local residents. KathrynMenu’s stepfather, Jack Graves, has worked at The East Hampton Star for 52 years and is that paper’s long-time sports editor. His daughter took over as The Independent’s sports editor after her future husband left that position. Virginia Garrison, The East Hampton Press editor, was a former longtime editor for The Star; and Gavin Menu left The Press to join his wife and Boyhan at The Express.