Digital First Media has agreed to sell New England Newspapers Inc. and its flagship daily newspaper, the 21,000-circulation Berkshire (Mass.) Eagle, to Birdland Acquisition LLC. Included in the deal are the Bennington (Vt.) Banner, the Brattleboro (Vt.) Reformer and the Manchester (Vt.) Journal. The deal is scheduled to close on May 2.
Dirks, Van Essen & Murray, a merger and acquisition firm based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, represented Birdland Acquisition in the sale. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The principals in the new company include three Stockbridge residents: John C. “Hans” Morris, former president of Visa Inc.; Fredric D. Rutberg, former Pittsfield District Court judge; and Robert G. Wilmers, chairman and CEO of M&T Bank. The fourth principal is Stanford Lipsey, publisher emeritus of The Buffalo News and former owner, publisher and Pulitzer Prize winner for The Sun Newspaper Group in Nebraska.
This marks the return of ownership with strong local ties that had ended more than 20 years ago. The Birdland owners see their purchase as a step toward rerouting the national trend toward consolidation of smaller newspapers into large media organizations, which will allow for more local news coverage.
Rutberg said Birdland’s investment is intended to “reinvigorate The Eagle and its future” as a quality print and digital news and information resource devoted to the local community it serves. As a first step, the new ownership group intends to add new jobs to the staff during the first year.
Publisher Edward L. Woods will continue to lead the newspaper group with the current management team and staff remaining in place. They will be joined by a substantial number of new hires for positions in the newsroom, marketing, web and technical services, finance and accounting.
Birdland has developed a long-term strategy to focus the papers to appeal to the community’s desire for more local news. Plans include improved editorial content and a variety of innovative additions. An editorial advisory board will be appointed to further engage the community, as will citizen journalists be recruited to enhance coverage of outlying Berkshire County.
Donald Graham, the former publisher of the Washington Post, summarized the Birdland group’s feelings when he said of Lipsey’s management of The Buffalo News, “Newspapers that focus on community and the news that is most important to their readers can still be good business.”