Napa resident plans rescue of Yountville, Calistoga community newspapers
When Napa businessman Marc Hand learned the owner of his hometown weekly newspaper planned to retire by year’s end — and fold if there was no buyer, he had to do something.
“I'm a big fan of — and much love — the Yountville Sun because I live here in Yountville,” said Hand. “I can't imagine, and wouldn’t really know what's going on in Yountville, if I wasn’t able to read the Sun every weekend.”
Hand decided the best way to rescue the Sun was to organize an effort to buy the paper, and it would turn out not to be the only paper he would help save in the Napa Valley.
He engaged four others and formed Highway 29 Publishing to buy both the Yountville Sun and the Calistoga Tribune. The group announced the purchase of the papers on Nov. 15. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.
It was in the spring of this year when Yountville Sun founder and publisher Sharon Stensaas announced the news of her impending departure.
“I started looking for buyers and had a lot of interest, which surprised me,” said Stensaas. “I thought it would be fantastic if we could find someone locally who had a serious interest in news and was actually already doing something about protecting and preserving local news.”
Hand is a co-founder and chair of the National Trust for Local News, a nonprofit established in 2020 whose mission is to keep “local news in local hands,” according to its website. The organization works to secure the capital needed to buy community newspapers, then build new ownership and business models that help them survive.
“Our first acquisition (last year) was 24 weekly newspapers in the Denver metro area,” Hand said. “And it was exactly that theme of longtime owners that loved the newspapers and wanted to retire, but didn't really want to sell to somebody that they felt might not necessarily really preserve the mission and the intent and the community interests of the newspaper.”
A media veteran of more than 30 years, Hand also serves as CEO of Public Media Venture Group, a Colorado-based nonprofit. PMVG consists of 31 public media entities across the country that collectively operate 117 television stations that reach more than 200 million people. He has held leadership roles in a handful of other media businesses over the course of his career.
Hand came to acquire both the Yountville Sun and Calistoga Tribune through what can best be described as a friendship, said Pat Hampton, who co-founded the Tribune with partner Ramona Asmus.
“Sharon and I have been friends for a long time because we both had weekly newspapers that were approaching 20 years in publishing,” said Hampton, adding both were ready to “hang up the old pica stick.” (A pica stick is an editor’s term for a type of ruler used to layout news pages).
Hampton said Stensaas suggested to Hand that he also consider buying the Calistoga Tribune.
Meanwhile, after Hampton made her retirement announcement in September, she received a call from Paul Ingalls, a fourth-generation Calistoga resident and former editor at The Press Democrat, a sister newspaper to the Business Journal.
Hampton said Ingalls wanted to talk with her and Asmus about the Tribune’s future.
The women met with Ingalls, who brought along Bruce Kyse, former executive editor and publisher of Sonoma County-based Press Democrat. In August, Kyse retired from the Calistoga Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Bureau, where he served for more than two years as executive director.
“So while Ramona and I were meeting with Bruce and Paul, Sharon was meeting with Marc,” Hampton said. “We decided to get them all together and see what they could come up with collectively.”
When Hand launches Highway 29 Publishing, it will operate with the same mission as the National Trust for Local News. However, Highway 29 Publishing will be set up as a public benefit corporation rather than a nonprofit, Hand said. A public benefit corporation allows owners to make a profit while furthering the public interest.
Highway 29 will have four principals: Ingalls and Kyse, and Larry Kamer and Christopher Haugh.
Kamer will serve as the media venture’s president, overseeing the publications’ business operations, technology development and growth. A 40-year veteran of the communications industry, Kamer also owns a marketing and management consulting firm in Napa.
The fourth principal is Christopher Haugh, a journalist and author who served as a speechwriter for the Secretary at the U.S. Department of State and as a speechwriting intern in the Obama White House.
Hampton and Stensaas will remain involved and serve on the board of directors.