Sun Media Group’s origins date back to the May 20, 1847 publication of a weekly newspaper called the Lewiston Falls Journal.Dr. Alonzo Garcelon, later a governor of Maine, was one of the founders, along with William Waldron, a printer by trade. Francis Lane edited what started out as a literary journal, and subscriptions in that first year sold at $1.50.
In February 1857, the Journal published a 27-day run as a daily newspaper to cover the Auburn murder trial of George Knight, who was accused of stabbing his wife Mary while she slept at their home in Poland. It went into full-time daily publication in April 1861 under Nelson Dingley Jr., a former employee who had become owner and publisher in 1857.
The Civil War years gave the new Lewiston Daily Evening Journal added impetus as Lewiston-Auburn readers hungered for news of the turmoil wracking the nation. The community had grown rapidly in the industrial revolution and new textile mills were supplying uniforms to the North’s soldiers.
By the turn of the century, 70 percent of the community’s workforce were mill employees.
The Journal Magazine was added to the Saturday afternoon paper in the late 1890s, a literary venture that enjoyed great popularity almost 100 years later.
In the early days, the magazine circulated throughout New England and even to Washington, D.C. It was also in the 1890s — Feb. 20, 1893 — that a new paper was born in Lewiston-Auburn, The Lewiston Daily Sun, founded by Henry Wing of Lewiston.
Lewiston-Auburn was then a community of 40,000 people. The Sun, in a first-day editorial, had kind words for its competitor, but a few years later the competition for readers brought about an intense rivalry.
Neither paper lacked for news in the turbulent years that followed the Spanish-American War and World War I, but each paper continued to place a high priority on community news, sometimes throwing in dashes of gossip that made good conversation topics. The industrial base and population grew, and workers had a paper when they woke up in the morning and also when they left the mills in the afternoon.
George B. Wood became owner of The Sun in 1898 and, soon after, brought his nephew Louis B. Costello into the business as general manager.
The offices moved that year from Lisbon Street to 104 Park St. where Sun Media Group newspapers are still located.
In 1926, Wood and Costello bought the Journal from the Dingley family and moved the operation from the Dingley Building on Lisbon Street to the Park Street location.
L.B. Costello’s son, Russell H. Costello, joined the company as production manager in 1930. L.B. Costello inherited the paper when Wood died in 1945.
Russell H. Costello succeeded his father as president and publisher in 1959. He died in 1993.
His son, James R. Costello Sr., joined the company in 1952 and was named president and publisher in 1993. He died in 2015.
A fourth generation of Costellos, the children of James Sr., managed the company until 2017. James R. Costello Jr. as vice president, production; Stephen Costello, vice president, advertising and marketing; David Costello, vice president, technology; and Maureen Wedge, vice president, human resources.
Advances in computer technology brought an end to the “hot metal” linotype, or lead process, era beginning in 1971 and the newspapers have experienced constant change since then to improve and quicken writing, editing and production processes. By the end of the 1990s, Sun Journal editors were “paginating,” or composing, entire pages on computer screens and sending them directly to production.
The 1980s saw historic changes in the newspapers’ product. In October 1983, following an extensive study involving many employees, a new Sunday newspaper was born, called “Sunday/Sun Journal.”
The new product concentrated on providing news and features to readers in the Sun Media Group circulation area, putting emphasis on color photography and graphics.
On June 3, 1989, 128 years of rich tradition and history ended when the Journal merged with The Sun into a virtually new morning paper called the Sun Journal. Declining readership of the afternoon paper, brought about mainly by changing lifestyles and reader habits, were among causes for the merger.
The desire, according to Publisher James R. Costello Sr., was to make better use of staff while producing a better newspaper.
Prior to the merger, the Journal went through a redesign process that made greater use of color, becoming a trendsetter and award-winning paper among New England dailies.
The new Sun Journal, and its Sunday edition, stressed community news coverage within their circulation areas of Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties.
The Sun Journal has continued to be a leader in local news and, over the years, has received numerous awards for writing, investigative reporting, editorials, photography, graphic design and advertising as well as Maine and New England Newspaper of the Year awards.
The Sun Journal was also named one of the “World’s Best-Designed” newspapers and listed as one of the top ten in the United States by the Society of News Design in 2000.
The Sun Journal is one of Lewiston-Auburn’s largest employers and is committed to the economic and cultural improvement of the region it serves. Many of the company’s employees play an active role in service to their communities.
The company has focused on diversification efforts over the years. Several weekly newspapers, commercial printing and other print and web-based products were added to its portfolio to offer customers various options for receiving local news and information, as well as marketing their businesses.
A new name — Sun Media Group — was announced in 2007 to serve as an umbrella to unify the Sun Journal with all of the individual companies owned by the Costellos, including Sun Press, The Bethel Citizen, The Forecaster publications, Rumford Falls Times, Advertiser Democrat, The Franklin Journal, Livermore Falls Advertiser, The Rangley Highlander, The Penobscot Times, American Journal, Lakes Region Weekly, Maine Women Magazine, 95 North and My Gen.
On Aug. 1, 2017, Sun Media Group was sold to Reade Brower, a mid-coast media executive and entrepreneur who also owns MaineToday Media, which includes the Portland Press Herald, Waterville Sentinel and the Kennebec Journal. He is also the owner of Alliance Press, a commercial printing company in Brunswick, and publishes four weeklies in midcoast Maine: The Free Press in Rockland, The Courier-Gazette in Rockland, The Camden Herald and The Republican Journal in Belfast.
In 2016, Brower and Chris Harris, former president of Upper Valley Press in New Hampshire, purchased The Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus in Vermont.
When the Sun Media Group sale was announced, Brower said “these are landmark Maine institution newspapers. We’re really all excited about creating a family of newspapers in Maine that the community can rely on for news they can trust.”