WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. – The Berkshire Eagle has created 22 new jobs in Pittsfield, and three new reporting positions, since it returned May 2 to local ownership and is now able to “stop the presses” for major news, its chief executive told a gathering of Rotarians on Tuesday.
Under two decades of chain ownership, “no one was stopping the presses for a fire in Pittsfield,” said Frederic Rutberg, a retired state-court judge who serves as president of New England Newspapers Inc., The Eagle’s owner. “It wasn’t going to happen.” He said later deadlines may also allow the return of some late-game stories and scores.
In a talk to about 20 people at the Williams Inn, Rutberg said he had set a goal of speaking to every Rotary Club in the Berkshires. He said readers should expect to see significant changes in how the paper looks within 60-90 days as a series of production and business services outsourced to Michigan, Connecticut, Colorado and Pennsylvania return.
Speaking for the ownership group, which besides Rutberg includes banker Robert G. Wilmers, and venture capitalist John “Hans” Morris – all of Stockbridge – and retired Buffalo News publisher Stanford Lipsey, Rutberg said their goal is to become “the finest community-newspaper group in America.”
Rutberg invited all of the region’s residents to “be our partners” by subscribing to the print or digital versions of the paper, by contributing news and information to help make The Eagle the “town square” of the Berkshires. He urged folks to tell friends about what they like in the paper, and “tell me what you don’t like” – offering his email address of firstname.lastname@example.org for feedback.
He said new subscribers are being offered two weeks of the paper for free.
“We hope to have a group of citizen journalists to cover meetings . . . to help beef up local coverage . . . that’s our goal,” said Rutberg. He said a recent survey showed that the news organization’s audience over age 55 almost exclusively reads the print daily, while those under 55 almost exclusively seek out its reports online either on The Eagle website or on Facebook, where some of its stories are posted. He said the owners know the paper’s own website is “horrible” and it will be upgraded within a month or so.
Among upcoming changes, said Rutberg, will be a reversal of two of three trends over two decades. The paper has become smaller, thinner and the price went up. “We plan to reverse all that, but I’m afraid we can’t reverse the price,” he said. The owners have already added several additional news pagers per day, and plan to physically increase the width of the newsprint on the press, making pages wider.
“We’re here to serve and we’re hear for the long haul,” said Rutberg.
Taking questions, Rutberg was asked about the longterm prognosis for print newspapers. He said papers continue to be profitable and to be the mainstay of quality, investigative reporting. But he acknowledged that there will probably be a time when the print newsapaper becomes extinct or a niche product. “A newspaper is like a melting ice cube,” he said. “But we’re going to slow it down,” he said by delivering quality news and more of it, among other things, and by delivering information in other ways, too.