When retired judge Frederic Rutberg and three other investors bought The Berkshire Eagle in western Massachusetts and three sister dailies in Vermont, he set what seemed like an audacious goal for papers that had suffered relentless cost-cutting under Digital First Media ownership.
“In 2016, new ownership announced its goal to make The Eagle the finest community newspaper in America,” Rutberg wrote in a column earlier this year, “and we would do so employing a rather novel strategy: By improving the paper and its websites, we will attract more readers, which will guarantee sustainability for our staff, our readers and our community.”
Three years later, the strategy is working.
The Eagle newsroom has been staffed up, with several of the 40 journalists concentrating on investigative reporting. Subscriptions are up and the community is responding to a product of local ownership focused on local news and issues.
Rutberg will tell the story of The Eagle’s renaissance this October in Chicago during the first annual meeting after the formal merger of the Inland Press Association and the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association.
The Eagle session fits well with the rest of the program that is coming together for the October 6 to 8 annual meeting. One theme is emerging as sessions are added to the agenda: Strategies for sustainability—financially and journalistically.
One committed speaker, for instance, is Arkansas Democrat-Gazette publisher and WEHCO Media CEO Walter E. Hussman Jr. As reported in the June issue of The Inlander, Hussman is working to convert all the newspaper’s subscribers from print to digital delivery on an iPad tablet.
“We believe we have found a way to return the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to profitability and provide a better and more robust reading experience for our subscribers,” Hussman wrote in a note to readers in May. “To do that, we need all of our subscribers to embrace the iPad replica newspaper experience.”
Also speaking of a digital future will be Jennifer Preston, the vice president/journalism of the Knight Foundation. Before joining the foundation in 2014, she was a journalist at The New York Times for nearly two decades, including, in 2009, serving as its first social media editor focused on extending digital media and social media storytelling across the newsroom.
Preston brings to the annual meeting experience as an investigative projects editor—and circulation marketing manager—at New York Newsday.
The agenda will also include a report on the new production agreement between The Wilson Times and The Daily Record of Dunn, North Carolina’s only remaining family-owned dailies.
Restoration Newsmedia, the new limited-liability corporation, operates a pagination hub, and advertising design hub and outsourced printing for the eight newspapers owned between the two families.
The program being put together with representatives of both Inland and SNPA also promises some surprise fun events, as befits an Annual Meeting celebrating the birth of the new association from the merger. The Annual Meeting kicks off exactly a week after Inland and SNPA complete their merger as a new association.
Watch inlandpress.org for developing information on the programming—and go to inland-snpa.org for registration.