As some readers will know, I did a stint as publisher at the Transcript from 2000 until 2006, when I left to become publisher at the Brattleboro (Vt.) Reformer. But my involvement with the Transcript started well before I moved into that very cold corner office.
Back in 1978, I started working at The Berkshire Eagle for the Miller family, which had owned that paper since 1892. The Millers were patient, long-term owners with smart strategies. In a pre-Pearl Harbor 1941 plan, they listed a number of strategic priorities to pursue "after the war" which everyone knew would come. These included a transition from letterpress to offset printing, the launch of a commercial printing business, the exploitation of fax technology to transmit news, the launch of a local television station and the acquisition of nearby daily newspapers.
They accomplish all of those goals (except for the TV station -- they bought land for a transmission tower, but got no further). They bought neighboring dailies in Bennington and Brattleboro, Vt., and Torrington and Winsted, Conn. -- forming an efficient cluster that became a model for shared management and production still being developed today in the rest of the newspaper industry.
But the prize that eluded them was the North Adams Transcript. Beginning in 1896, the Transcript was owned by the Hardman family, and the two families had a friendly rivalry. But when the Hardmans decided to sell the paper in the mid-1970s, they let it be known that they would not sell to the Millers -- because they were afraid the Millers would simply merge the two papers.
The Millers unsuccessfully attempted an end run using a straw man, but the Hardmans sold the Transcript to the Boston Globe. They tried again, without success, when the Globe put the paper up for sale a few years later and sold it to Ingersoll Publications. In 1995, when the Millers found themselves over-leveraged as a result of their Clock Tower real estate project in Pittsfield, they sold their holdings to MediaNews Group. A year later, MediaNews bought the Transcript, finally putting the two papers under common ownership.
The suspicions of the Hardmans that the Millers would have merged the papers were correct. In fact, around 1997, Michael Miller, a third-generation member of the former publishing family, asked me why MediaNews hadn't merged the Transcript into The Eagle yet. (In the early 1980s, the Millers had merged two other papers, the Torrington Register and the Winsted Citizen in Connecticut, into the Register-Citizen.)
But Dean Singleton, the driving force behind MediaNews, was convinced that North Adams was a separate place from Pittsfield and should continue to have its own daily. Though he could be ruthless about business, he had gotten his start in newsrooms and was passionate about journalism. He brought in a well-known newspaper designer to give the Transcript a makeover. We found and restored the original, handsome Gothic name, including the words "North Adams" which had been excised when the scripty "The Transcript" logo was devised in the 1960s.
At the time, in 1995, newspapering still looked like a growth business. The Web's disruptive potential was not yet understood. While newspaper circulation was already in decline, newspaper advertising continued to grow until about 2006. Still, it was no longer the gentlemanly business engaged in by the Millers and Hardmans. The pressure for profits led to a long series of small consolidation steps merging the business and production functions of the two papers, and the Transcript's building was sold. Eventually, the final consolidation with The Eagle became the relatively simple step it now appears to be.
Like the Millers and Hardmans, Digital First Media thinks more strategically than the rest of the industry. Its name reflects the possibility that at some point, the daily printed product may no longer be viable and most consumers will get most news through digital media. The Berkshires have changed, as well. North Berkshire is much more a part of the Berkshires than it was decades ago. So while the Millers might have merged the two papers prematurely, the idea of a single leading news organization for The Berk shires now makes sense.
The region -- the Berkshires -- is a brand in itself, which has always been a strength exploited by The Eagle. So both the consolidation of the papers and the transformation of the Berkshires Week supplement, published since 1952, into a year-round standalone publication are smart moves, especially if accompanied by a good online strategy.
It's understandable that the names of the two papers will not be merged into something like Eagle-Transcript. But I've suggested that the Transcript logo (its "flag" in newspaper parlance) be retained in a small way as part of the Eagle's editorial page masthead. While "The Voice of the Northern Berkshires since 1843" may be stilled, The Transcript's 170 years of publishing history should not vanish without a trace.