PITTSFIELD — When The Berkshire Eagle was claimed by local ownership in 2016, it became part of the investors' mission to turn the local newspaper into a "town square."
The Eagle's upcoming Conversation Series — they are routine public events that will feature experts discussing a diverse array of topics — is a new initiative to achieve that goal.
The series will kick off Thursday at Barrington Stage Company with three former Berkshire County journalists, who went on to research or teach religion. The thought-provoking conversation will focus on "faith, civility and ethics in the current national political atmosphere."
"I think what it's going to do — by covering a variety of issues, bringing a group of experts together to sort of explore current issues of the day — it's a way to get a dialogue going," Eagle Executive Editor Kevin Moran said of the series. "We may not, through these conversations, come up with a solution, but I think we will have really rational discourse about how to come up with solutions. At the very least, I think they will be very edifying and entertaining."
Moran will moderate Thursday's event, which will host R. Gustav Niebuhr, director of programs in religion and media at Syracuse University; the Rev. Jerome "Joe" Day, assistant professor of English at St. Anselm College; and Alan Cooperman, director of religious research at the Pew Research Center.
Niebuhr and Cooperman are former Eagle reporters who went on to work at national publications including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Associated Press.
Day worked at the North Adams Transcript as a reporter and editor before moving on to the Lowell Sun and later being ordained as a priest.
All three not only have roots in the Berkshires, but also have connections to Daniel Pearl, a former Transcript and Eagle reporter who was kidnapped and killed by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002, according to Moran.
Proceeds from Thursday's event will go toward the Daniel Pearl Berkshire Scholarship, which benefits local students pursuing a career in journalism or music.
"It will be a series of somewhat monthly, hopefully monthly, conversations based around topical, important issues of the day," Moran said.
The second event, "The impact of Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court," will be held Oct. 25 and feature former New York Times reporter Linda Greenhouse, who had a decadeslong career covering the Supreme Court, and retired Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Judge Francis X. Spina.
"The idea of a conversation with real listening and real understanding, I think, will be an opportunity to give something to our community," said Fredric Rutberg, president and publisher of New England Newspapers Inc., which owns the Eagle.
Rutberg, a retired Berkshire County judge, is moderating the October event. Its time and venue are to be determined.
The conversation series was sparked by concerns over the country's current political divide. Whether it be between civilians in person, pundits on TV news shows, or interactions on social media, individuals with differing opinions in today's political climate seem to talk over each other, without truly listening to or considering the other person's thoughts, Rutberg said.
"Obviously, the whole concept of the `town square' was one of the motivators to purchase the Eagle in the first place," Rutberg said. "I think this is another side of our attempt to enhance that role of the paper."
Click here for more information on purchasing tickets.
Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.