Friday, April 22, 2016

Small daily papers in Massachusetts and Vermont are returning to local ownership

The Berkshire Eagle, a daily newspaper in western Massachusetts, is returning to local ownership for the first time in 21 years and will refocus its attention on increasing community engagement, Clarence Fanto reports for the Eagle. One of the new owners, retired District Court Judge Fredric D. Rutberg, said at a public meeting to announce the purchase of the paper, "We're buying the paper to keep it here, manage it and hopefully restore some of its former glory. It is a daunting task, and we're very proud and excited." (Eagle photo by Stephanie Zollshan: New owners speaking Thursday in Pittsfield)

The new ownership group, Birdland Acquisition LLC, will take ownership of New England Newspapers Inc. from Digital First Media May 2, Tony Dorbrowolski reports for The Eagle. In addition to The Eagle, NENI includes two Massaschusetts papers, the Bennington Banner and Brattleboro Reformer and the Manchester Journal in Vermont.

Community leaders were encouraged by the words of the new owners, Dorbrowolski writes. Berkshire United Way president and CEO Kristine Hazzard told him, "We just heard from everybody who spoke that this is going to be local from ownership to focus to engagement and that's thrilling because people have been really hungering for it... There's a lot of bad stuff on the front page, and there is as much if not more good stuff happening. When you're local you're engaged in that community and know what the community wants and needs. You're going to reflect it more I would think."

Jonathan Butler, COO of 1Berkshire, the county's leading economic-development agency, told Dorbrowolski, "We're very excited about the paper getting back into local hands. The Eagle is a significant source for getting the word out there, and the fact that it will be under local ownership is very exciting."

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