North Adams and surrounding communities lose an important voice when their daily newspaper is folded into The Berkshire Eagle.
Closing the North Adams Transcript is a loss.
Newspapers have distinctive voices that reflect their home base.
The North Adams Transcript goes back some 170 years and is unique as the communities it served. It is literally a transcript of history -- written, printed and much of it preserved. The newspaper lineage traced back to 1843 has come to a quiet end.
That does not mean this area will lose its voice.
Some may believe this latest step to merge the North Adams Transcript into its larger sister newspaper began in 1996 when it was purchased by MediaNews Group. The real transition came in the mid-1970s when the Hardman family sold the Transcript to the Boston Globe, starting a chain of corporate ownership.
The Hardman family members were early riders of a wave that spread and accelerated through the 1980s and 1990s as local newspaper owners sold their stakes to companies building their own networks.
There was incentive to sell out. High prices proved irresistible to owners, some of whom did not have new generations waiting to take control; others wanted to cash out and move on. Perhaps the Hardmans were more prescient than most and saw the writing on the wall with Sprague Electric, which would go from North Adams' largest employer to closed in a decade.
The Hardmans were the last in the line of local family ownership. It was a true newspaper family that I admired. I also admired the late Richard B. Scudder, the former chairman of MediaNews Group. When he showed up in North Adams after the purchase, with his sleeves rolled up and tie loose around his neck, he looked like he belonged in the newsroom.
But he was not local.
The voice of newspapers must emanate from within their communities. That was true when I was at the helm of the North Adams Transcript from 1990 through 1997 as editor and publisher.
It will remain true as readers get The Berkshire Eagle in place of the Transcript. The readers just need to continue speaking up.
What imbues newspapers with their voice, what fuels their advocacy and inhabits the watchdog role that is complementary even when it can seem contradictory, are communities. Editors direct coverage and write opinions; they lead the newspaper. Yet they are only effective if they know how to listen.
Editors of big newspapers are criticized for an ivory tower approach.
Local newspaper editors have no such luxury. Their voices are shaped by the cacophony around them.
It was an exciting but not easy time during the 1990s fight to create an arts-linked economy with the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art taking over the empty Arnold Print Works complex.
Everywhere I went, I listened to what people had to say about everything from Mass MoCA to weather to politics to schools to jobs to the best place to get a fried fish sandwich on a Friday.
It was the most welcoming place my family has ever been. Perhaps residents were happy to see newcomers after suffering through the collapse of Sprague and exodus of families. My wife and children, the last born in North Adams, felt welcome there.
To hone my newspaper's voice, to help me direct my newspaper's coverage, I listened to the people around me: the reporters and photographer out on the streets and at meetings, the staff members in advertising and composing and the front office, clerks to pressmen.
I listened when half a dozen people would stop by my table over the course of a lunch downtown on Main Street or while I was picking up doughnuts on Eagle Street. I learned about priorities at arts openings and events at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, picnicking atop Mount Greylock or at Natural Bridge, or chatting with other parents as we let our children roam the big lawns at Williams College on a quiet Sunday morning when no students were around.
My understanding came from jawing with clerks or shop owners along the Mohawk Trail and on quiet roads in southern Vermont and through whispers during quiet walks around the Clark Art Institute.
My voice, my newspaper's voice, was an echo and amplification of what I was told.
That is why the community's voice will not follow suit as the North Adams Transcript goes quiet.
There are others who will continue to echo and amplify what they hear on the streets.
One of those people is Kevin Moran. I had the good fortune to hire him in the 1990s as a reporter for the North Adams Transcript and recommend his promotion to editor. I saw not only the journalistic potential in him, but also the fact he is an Adams native who knew and loved the area.
Moran is now vice president of news for New England Newspapers Inc. He is one among many with deep ties to the Transcript and the area and will continue to direct news coverage for former Tran script readers. There are others I worked with at the North Adams Transcript who moved to the Eagle years ago and more who will come aboard at the transition.
Losing the specific voice of the North Adams Transcript is a blow for the community, but the saving grace is that the human element behind the newspaper remains. The deep ties forged between newspaper and community can continue because The Berkshire Eagle staff members will not want to let their readers down.
David Nahan left the North Adams Transcript in 1997 when he had the chance to buy a share of local newspapers based in Ocean City and Cape May, N.J. He remains the editor and publisher of six publications in the Garden State's southernmost county.