58 million Sunday papers later…

Jim Costello Sr., the publisher of the Sun Journal, talks about the origins of the Sunday edition, his most embarrassing moment, one of his heroes and the future of the company.

You were the originator and driving force behind what must have been considered a risky gamble at that time: the second Sunday paper in the state, the first in the state offering color, and requiring essentially a completely new system of production and distribution. Did you have some trepidation that it wouldn’t fly?

No trepidation, but my mother and father sure did. We needed to start a Sunday paper in order to offer a seven-day subscription to protect our franchise. At that time, the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram was becoming more and more active in our tri-county market selling seven-day subscriptions.

Why then? Why not five years earlier or five years later?

I would have started it 10 years earlier, but had resistance from previous management.

What kind of pressure did you feel to make this thing shine?

If you are going to do something, you might as well do it right.

You were there with your whole family that wild first night when the first edition of the paper was put together. Out of all that, a memory or two that stands out?

I remember being three hours late the first morning we could have inserted (the comics, preprinted sections and other inserts) by hand faster than the machine was operating. I also remember (one of the editors) hitting the print key and nothing happening, so she hit it over and over again, and then clogged up the entire computer system. And, I certainly remember a feeling of pride and accomplishment when that first paper came off the press.

You were probably expecting a great public reaction to the new product. You got that … as well as a lot of angry readers and even lawsuits over the forced subscriptions. Disheartening at the time?

Yes, that’s true, but I chalked it up to resistance to any type of change. Luckily in the end the product proved itself.

Any regrets? Would you have done anything differently?

We needed more sophisticated production equipment to make sure we had on-time delivery to our customers.

What was the reaction from other publishers?

Positive, except for our closest competitors.

How did you feel in 1991 when Sunday was judged best newspaper in New England for its circulation by the New England publisher’s association?

Pride and gratitude to all those who made it possible. In fact, so happy that we brought the whole Sunday news crew to Boston for the awards ceremony.

The idea of asking Ronald Reagan for a letter: Who came up with it and was there any debate about whether it should go on the front page of that first edition?

It was Tom Kelsch’s idea (then the executive editor of the Sunday edition), and regardless of political affiliation, why would there be any debate, as he was president at the time and it was a great honor. Besides, he’s one of my heroes.

What were the proudest moments you’ve experienced related to the Sunday product, and what were some of the most frustrating or embarrassing?

The inability to get the product out on time was the most embarrassing and frustrating. The proudest moment was seeing the project to its completion and with so many people working so hard and putting so much planning and effort into making it happen. It wasn’t just one person, it was the entire staff.

Your favorite section of the Sunday paper?

It was the Economy section because it allowed all businesses, no matter how big or small, to have their accomplishments recognized in a public way. This was so popular that we’ve now spread it out over the entire week in the daily paper.

By my quick math, the Sun Journal has produced about 58 million Sundays over the last 25 years. What if – for whatever reason – you hadn’t made the investment in Sunday? What do you think would have been the result, for readers and for the franchise?

If we hadn’t made the investment there would have been a local news void on Sunday and it would have allowed a competitor to fill that void. We’re continuing on to this day with our local news strategy with the acquisitions of our weekly papers to bring our concept of local news right down to the neighborhood level.

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