Skip to content

Celebrating a First: Highway 29 Media sustains local journalism in Napa Valley

Let’s light a candle and celebrate the first anniversary of a substantial shift in the landscape of local news in Napa Valley. Highway 29 Media was set up to acquire and save two cherished weekly newspapers...

Marc Hand is CEO the Napa Valley News Group, which publishes the Calistoga Tribune, The Yountville Sun and Napa Life Extra. | Photo by Marissa Carlisle

Let’s light a candle and celebrate the first anniversary of a substantial shift in the landscape of local news in Napa Valley. Highway 29 Media was set up to acquire and save two cherished weekly newspapers in Napa Valley – the Yountville Sun and the Calistoga Tribune. In early 2023, we formed Highway 29, with pro bono support from Morrison & Foerster, and raised the initial funding needed to continue the tradition of these two weeklies that have covered news and life in Calistoga and Yountville for more than 20 years. The Yountville Sun was the inspiration of Sharon Stensaas, the founder and driving force behind the Sun. The Calistoga Tribune was founded by Pat Hampton and Ramona Asmus, both of whom carried the commitment of journalism into covering life in Calistoga. 

It has been a tremendous community effort to move these publications to new owners and to hire and support professional staff for each publication. Taking inspiration from the long thank-you lists often shared at the academy awards, we are able to celebrate our first anniversary with the support of key donors, including Napa Valley Community Foundation, the Delong Sweet Foundation and a host of others large and small, along with investors in Highway 29 and the business community through their support of advertising. Key staff have met the weekly deadlines, including editors Kim Beltran at the Sun and Paul Ingalls and Tom Chorneau at the Tribune, and Danielle Wilde, reporter at the Tribune. The board of directors of Highway 29 have contributed leadership to this critical development phase.  

We did not miss a beat in getting the weekly papers out – while fundraising and doing community events. And now, a year later, we are poised to move these publications into a new future, as the operation of local publications nationally moves from traditional models to new and evolving platforms. 

In the reinvention of these vital local institutions, most publications are moving to nonprofit ownership. I am pleased to announce that we, too, have established a nonprofit, the Napa Valley News Group. In our growing list of accomplishments, we were able to hire a very talented bilingual reporter, Mariela Gomez, with a grant provided by Napa Valley Community Foundation. Adding to the talented team, UC Berkeley awarded Highway 29 a Journalism Fellow, a highly competitive statewide award that will bring another new reporter to cover news and stories of interest to those of us who call Napa Valley home. 

Additional highlights for the year include a partnership with Paul Franson and NapaLife – and from that a new monthly publication, NapaLife Extra, to expand on Paul’s coverage of food, wine, arts and other stories of interest to the community. 

Under the leadership of Paul D’Antilio, we have recently launched a website, Napa Valley Insider, which will develop into an engaging source of news, information and stories as we expand the talented group of writers and contributors under the umbrella of our publications. 

We are now printing and distributing more than 5,000 weekly and 9,000 monthly publications in addition to the digital site. We can say that we not only saved two much-loved publications but are also now filling a void in local news in Napa Valley and, in doing that, bringing engaging stories that inform, entertain and inspire. 

All of this reflects a significant change in the pattern of traditional newspapers, which have been shrinking staff and distribution over the past few years. These new local models have an important foundation – the support of those in Napa Valley who believe in the importance, power and community building reflected in local news. 

I would like to thank the people and communities who have contributed, in so many ways to this beginning transformation of news in Napa Valley. We have a lot of work to do – and we will depend on everyone in the communities served who not only recognize the importance of locally owned publications, but contribute their time, donations and advertising dollars to make sure we continue to celebrate local news birthdays well into the future. Happy first birthday to all of us who share the vision of robust local news.