REVIEW&EXPRESS marks 160 years
SCHUYLER COUNTY—1854 was a great year. Among its firsts were the ascension of Abraham Lincoln’s political career, it was the year the Republican party was started, the patent for chemical wood-pulp, now known as “newsprint,” was recorded, and something to use it for—the predecessor of the Watkins Express, the Watkins Republican, began printing a weekly newspaper in the newly established jurisdiction of Schuyler County.
The Watkins Republican was backed by Judge George Freer, and he was the husband of Cynthia Cass Watkins. The newspaper name changed to the Schuyler County Union in 1863, and then in 1864, it became the Watkins Express. The Watkins REVIEW started publishing in 1896.
The two newspapers continued to publish separately throughout most the 1900s with an impressive list of of owners and publishers. In 1988, the two newspapers were merged into the REVIEW&EXPRESS as its been known ever since.
In 1998, the paper was purchased by George and Debbie Lawson, who are also the owners of the The Observer (Yates County).
George Lawson, whose career in journalism spans 40 years with newspapers in seven states, had visited the Finger Lakes with his family; and he and his wife decided to start their own media company, Finger Lakes Media, Inc., when they moved to the area in 1998.
The continuing presence of a locally-focused newspaper in Schuyler County points to a strong appetite for a regional take on what’s happening, an understanding of what a community finds important, including news that can’t be found anywhere else. Who’s on the honor roll? What’s happening that’s truly wonderful? Where else are you going to find out? And knowing they have loyal readers looking forward to the next edition of the Watkins REVIEW&EXPRESS is news the Lawsons find encouraging.
“Whether it’s a daily newspaper or a weekly newspaper, the best newspapers are the ones that care about quality journalism,” says owner and Publisher George Lawson. “It’s the quality that counts, and we’re fortunate in having a very dedicated, nationally-recognized staff for award-winning work including reporting, photography and advertising.
“We don’t endorse political candidates but present both sides of issues. If you look back through early editions, there were certainly political agendas. Some of the owners and publishers tried to follow an agenda to varying degrees, that’s not what the newspaper is today. There’s not a political agenda here, but there is a coverage agenda. We’re a weekly paper with family values. We’re welcomed into the schools and we always want to be there. We want students to be able to pick it up and read it—and adults as well—without finding anything in poor taste,” Lawson adds.
Longtime subscriber and New York State Assemblyman Phil Palmesano says he enjoys the paper because “It contains a wealth of information and knowledge. Obviously I’m always looking for the news, but it captures a lot of human interest stories too, recognizing achievements, really touching the fabric of the community.”
Palmesano calls the REVIEW&EXPRESS “A great paper, a testament to the people in the community. Smaller papers, especially the weeklies, get into the heart and roots of the area.”
Larry Wilson, formerly an editor at the Elmira Star Gazette and now a columnist for the REVIEW&EXPRESS, agrees. “I think a paper like the REVIEW&EXPRESS and other small newspapers all over the country are the most closely connected media to the people they serve. People who run these papers have ties to the community, have ‘skin in the game’—a stake in it. They do the best job of giving people a sense of time and place.
“By that I mean I can pick up the REVIEW&EXPRESS each week and I’m going to know this is an area with grape growing, wine making, lake recreation and auto racing traditions. So many large newspapers look and sound alike, you can’t get a sense of place and history. People who advertise with them know they all have the same investment in trying to build the local economy as a locally-owned newspaper. You’re going to stay in your community to buy cars and flowers and insurance. So the paper becomes more important to the local economy than a publication owned by a large company out of the region.”
He also cites the priceless advantage offered by having local oversight, that “Sunshine is the best disinfectant” principle applied to local politics. “It’s critical because no other newspapers have the interest or the resources to cover a place like Schuyler County the way it needs to be covered. The only way it’s going to get done is by the smaller newspapers lurking in the smaller communities. Think of the “Neighbors” columns, where people write about local events —that’s when people hear about things that end up as news,” Wilson says.
State Senator Thomas F. O’Mara calls the 160th anniversary of the REVIEW&EXPRESS “An outstanding and hopeful achievement in a world where so many time-honored community institutions are changing so rapidly, and not always for the better. Congratulations and thank you to the paper’s publishers, editors and reporters, past and present, who have done so much for so long to help keep the people of Schuyler County informed, interested and engaged in ways that only a high-quality, dedicated community newspaper can across so many of our rural regions. It’s my sincerest hope that the occasion of your 160th anniversary marks just the beginning of another 160 years of REVIEW&EXPRESS coverage of Schuyler County’s comings and goings, highs and lows and, above all, pride and success.”