For the last 150 years, the Reading (Pa.) Eagle has been passed down one family’s lineage since the newspaper was first printed on Jan. 28, 1868. Serving Reading and Berks County regions, the Eagle has spanned eight generations of Peter Barbey’s family, who currently serves as president and chief executive officer.
The daily paper (which Barbey describes as a part of the “family DNA”) was founded by Jessie Hawley, Barbey’s great-great-grandfather, who partnered with William Ritter, the owner of a German-language newspaper called the Reading Adler, founded in 1796.
The paper celebrated the momentous anniversary with a 48-page special section, which included historical photos, stories of the first 150 years and a comic strip detailing Hawley’s early days leading the Eagle. In total, more than 50,000 copies were distributed and the section took 10 months to produce.
“It was a combination of vision and talent,” Barbey said. “I think everyone had fun with it.”
As a leader, Barbey has made bold decisions to ensure that the historic Eagle keeps up with the digital age. For example, in 2012, he implemented a paywall on the newspaper’s website. It was an unpopular decision, he said, but in the long run it resulted in retaining subscription income to a “great degree” and the paper’s circulation holding up. Part of what sustained subscriptions is paying attention to the content, said Barbey.
As he looks ahead to the next 150 years, Barbey said, “I’ve learned that the print edition is still important because of the permanence that it has. So much of what we do digitally disappears…We have to figure out how to develop the same permanence in the digital age.”
Barbey also learned about the need to keep the newspaper a family business because it arises a sense of social responsibility like that of his ancestors.
“It was never about the money the paper produced,” he said. “It’s very much about the role that publishing a newspaper has in a community. It’s quite a privilege to own a newspaper and it has to be treated as such.”
Barbey intends to keep the Eagle in the family for future generations but that’s not to say offers haven’t been made in the past. “Sure, they called,” he said, referring to other media companies. “But our family has decided to keep it…we’ve always had a tradition of family succession. The most important thing is that the newspaper survives. We want to make sure the community is being served in the best way possible.”
Editor’s note: This article has been edited to clarify that offers have been made on the paper in the past, but not since Peter Barbey has led the paper.