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The Berkshire Eagle
Newspaper in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, US
The Berkshire Eagle
The 2 October 2020 front page of The Berkshire Eagle
Published daily since 1892, The Eagle has been owned since 1 May 2016 by a group of local Berkshire County investors, who purchased The Eagle and its three Vermont sister newspapers for an undisclosed sum from Digital First Media.
The Eagle's roots go back to a weekly newspaper, the Western Star, founded in Stockbridge, Massachusetts in 1789. Over time, this newspaper changed its name, ownership, and place of publications multiple times:
The Western Star, published in Stockbridge, Massachusetts from 1 December 1789 - 10 June 1794.
The name was changed to Andrews's Western Star, published in Stockbridge from 17 June 1794 - 20 February 1797.
The name reverted to The Western Star, published in Stockbridge from 27 February 1806 - 8 November 1806.
Shortly after the final issue of The Western Star, a successor publication, The Berkshire Reporter, was launched nearby in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, on 17 January 1807. This issue was labeled as Volume 18, Number 1859, indicating continuity from The Western Star. The Berkshire Reporter continued until 23 November 1815.
Meanwhile in Stockbridge, another weekly newspaper was launched, called the Farmer's Herald, published from 30 July 1808 - 1814.
The name of the Farmer's Herald was changed to The Berkshire Herald in 1814; this publication continued until 23 November 1815 (the same as the last date of the Berkshire Reporter).
The Berkshire Herald and the Berkshire Reporter merged, becoming The Berkshire Star, published in Stockbridge from 17 December 1815 - 3 January 1828.
The name of The Berkshire Star was changed to The Berkshire Star and County Republican, published in Lenox, Massachusetts from 10 January 1828 - 28 August 1829.
The name was changed to The Berkshire Journal, published in Lenox from 3 September 1829 - 25 August 1831.
Meanwhile in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, a newspaper had been launched with the name The Argus, published from 24 May 1827 - 1 September 1831.
The Berkshire Journal and The Argus merged to become The Journal and Argus, published in Lenox from September 1, 1831 - 20 August 1834.
Finally the name of The Journal and Argus was changed to The Massachusetts Eagle in the issue of August 28, 1834. This was the first time the word "Eagle" appeared in the name of the publication, but based on the publishing dates, volume numbering, and ownership, there was a continuity of publication beginning with The Western Star in 1789.
As of 7 January 1853, the name changed again to The Berkshire County Eagle.
The weekly Berkshire County Eagle was purchased by Kelton Bedell Miller in 1891. The following year, on May 9, 1892, it commenced daily publication as The Berkshire Evening Eagle.The Berkshire County Eagle, however, remained a part of the paper, as a weekly section within the Wednesday edition of the daily, until 24 June 1953.
The Miller family retained ownership until 1995. After Kelton Bedell Miller died in 1941, ownership passed to his sons, Lawrence K. Miller and Donald B. Miller, as editor and publisher, respectively.
The Miller brothers focused on hiring talent and building the quality of The Eagle's newsroom. The newspaper became known as a great place for graduates of journalism schools to begin their careers, and many of those reporters went on to renowned careers throughout the journalistic world in publications such as The New York Times,The Washington Post, TheWall Street Journal, Time magazine and others.
In a 1973 Time magazine article about The Eagle, then Boston Globe editor Thomas Winship is quoted as calling The Eagle the best newspaper "of its size in the country." The article mentions that the paper carried occasional book reviews from Berkshire County residents such as James MacGregor Burns and William L. Shirer. At the time, the paper had nearly 20 local columnists, 23 stringers and a staff of 35, considered large for a paper its size. (Circulation was 32,000 at the time.)
Press critic Ben Bagdikian in 1973 stated that there were only three great newspapers in the world: The New York Times, Le Monde, and The Berkshire Eagle. The Washington Post, where he had served as editor and ombudsman, he said at the time, was "not yet a great paper."
The next and final generation of Miller owners was headed by Michael G. Miller, grandson of Kelton Bedell Miller, who founded the paper. Michael was then president of The Eagle Publishing Company which in 1995 owned The Eagle, the Middletown Press in Middletown, Connecticut, and two daily newspapers in Vermont: the Bennington Banner and the Brattleboro Reformer, as well as a weekly newspaper, the Journal in Manchester, Vermont; his brother Mark C. Miller was editor of The Eagle, while brother Kelton B. Miller II was publisher of the Vermont newspapers. A sister, Margo Miller, a writer for The Boston Globe, sat on Eagle Publishing's board.
In 1989, the Millers chose to renovate, as a new headquarters and printing plant for their company, a former Sheaffer-Eaton stationery company paper converting factory in Pittsfield. As a result of a recession, the company was unable to service the debt it had assumed to finance this $23.5 million project. Failing to find a white knight to help them weather the fiscal storm that ensued, in 1995 the Millers sold their holdings to MediaNews Group, a company founded by William Dean Singleton of Denver, Colorado.
The transaction closed on September 1, 1995. Simultaneously, MediaNews Group sold the Middletown Press to the Journal Register Company. The following year, MediaNews added the North Adams Transcript to its western New England holdings. In January 2014, the Transcript ceased operations and was merged into The Eagle.
Immediately upon acquiring The Eagle, MediaNews group reduced the newsroom staff of 40 by more than 25 percent. Later under MediaNews management, as newspapers in general faced increasing financial challenges there were multiple rounds of staff reductions as various functions were consolidated into centralized locations on a regional or national basis. All the while, subscription prices were increased despite falling circulation levels.
Return to local ownership
In April 2016, a team of local investors bought The Eagle from Digital First Media (DFM), the new name of MediaNews Group. The investor team consisted of former Visa Inc. President John C. "Hans" Morris, local retired judge Fredric D. Rutberg, M&T Bank Chairman Robert G. Wilmers and Stanford Lipsey, former publisher of The Buffalo News and former owner of The Sun Newspaper Group of Nebraska. Lipsey died November 1, 2016; his shares are now owned by his widow Judith Lipsey. Wilmers died in December, 2017.
In introducing the new ownership and its goals to The Eagle's readership, Rutberg wrote: "The goal is to make The Eagle a part of the finest community newspaper group in America," Rutberg wrote. "Our business plan is simple. By improving the quality and quantity of the content in our publications, we expect to increase our readership which will, in turn, increase our revenues, and ensure the future of these publications."
Under the new owners, The Eagle has been able to hire additional newsroom staff, expanded its investigative team, and has launched new content including a Sunday arts-focused section called Landscapes.
The new ownership group also invested in new systems in order to transition off the centralized DFM technical infrastructure, including a new content management system. They established a community advisory board including journalists Linda Greenhouse and Donald Morrison, and authors Simon Winchester and Elizabeth Kolbert, all of whom have Berkshire area connections, and representatives of many local non-profits and businesses.
In October, 2020, in response to economic challenges associated with the Covid-19 pandemic, The Eagle reduced its print frequency to five days per week, Tuesday through Saturday, with the traditional Sunday package of supplements and inserts moving into the Saturday slot. On Mondays, while there is no printed paper, an electronic facsimile of a printed newspaper is available, and the paper's website is updated seven days a week. The paper also announced a new strategic direction it calls Being Digital, which entails "moderniz[ing] and enhanc[ing] our digital presence by expanding our use of digital tools in our reporting that incorporates the use of podcasts, video, interactive graphics, and links to underlying references and sources."
In the film Absence of Malice starring Paul Newman and Sally Field, Field's character mentions that she once lived in the Northeast. "I had my first job there the summer when I was 16 on The Berkshire Eagle. I wonder if they'd have me back."
Rinker Buck's book First Job: A Memoir of Growing Up at Work (2002) is a memoir of his employment at The Berkshire Eagle in the early 1970s, including recollections of many Eagle co-workers.
Norman Rockwell included a copy of The Berkshire Eagle in his painting The Armchair General. Originally, when published as a cover of The Saturday Evening Post, the newspaper in the painting was the Troy Record, but Rockwell painted over the Record and inserted The Berkshire Eagle before presenting the original painting to the Miller family. It hung at the Eagles offices for many years. The painting was exhibited in 2018-2020 as part of touring exhibit focused on Rockwell's Four Freedoms paintings.
The original newspaper report describing the arrest of Arlo Guthrie for littering was published in The Berkshire Eagle. The incident led Guthrie to write the song and monologue "Alice's Restaurant", which launched his recording career, and included the line: "and everybody wanted to get in a newspaper story about it."
Eagle editorials since World War II have leaned slightly to the left of center, with support generally given to Democratic Party candidates (The last Republican presidential candidate endorsed by the paper was Wendell Willkie in 1940.). The editorial page editors, like most of New England, early-on railed against the War in Iraq, and were generally critical of Bush Administration's foreign and domestic policies.
Currently, The Berkshire Eagle costs $1.50 Tuesday through Friday, and $2.50 on Saturdays. Home delivery plus digital access costs $350 for 52 weeks. Digital-only access costs $179 per year.