PITTSFIELD — Fredric D. Rutberg is a firm believer in the power of local journalism.
He believes in it so much that six years ago the retired judge led a group that purchased The Berkshire Eagle, which brought Berkshire County's oldest newspaper back under local ownership for the first time in 21 years.
Rutberg's achievement was recognized recently when The Eagle's president and publisher was chosen to receive a 2022 Governor's Award in the Humanities. The recipients are chosen for their "contributions to the humanities to improve public life in Massachusetts."
Mass Humanities, which is based in Northampton, and Gov. Charlie Baker have partnered annually to present these awards, which have been given since 2013.
Rutberg, and this year's fellow recipient, Frances Jones-Sneed, professor emeritus of history and political science at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, are the first ever Governor's Award winners from Berkshire County, according to Mass Humanities board member Bruce Grinnell of Williamstown, who nominated them both.
"Each of them has contributed so significantly in their respective areas of expertise or interest," Grinnell said. "I hope that it brings some light to our area about Mass Humanities and all the good things that it does."
Grinnell credited Rutberg and his group with reviving The Eagle when they bought the paper six years ago.
"Fred and his partners really turned it around and took the responsibility of being newspaper people seriously," Grinnell said. "They have done what they can to do for what I think is a clear underpinning of the democratic society. You've got to have a press, you've got to be local, you've got to be outspoken and provide opportunities for the people who work for you. I think he's done all of those things."
Rutberg and Jones-Sneed will be honored Oct. 23 at The Governor's Awards Celebration at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston. The proceeds from the awards event support humanities programming in Massachusetts.
"Stunned and humbled. I didn't even know it existed," Rutberg said about receiving the award. "You don't expect these things to happen. Getting a statewide award for making contributions to public life in the humanities is pretty awesome. It's an expression of support that is overwhelming."
"It's validation of what we set out to do," he said.
Rutberg and his group, which included Hans Morris and the late Bob Wilmers, purchased The Eagle in 2016 because they wanted the newspaper to remain as a prominent local news source for the Berkshires. Although The Eagle still served in that role, that mission had begun to wane after The Eagle came under corporate ownership in 1995.
"The Eagle, as I remembered it, had been a town square and it had slipped," Rutberg said. "It hadn't fulfilled that role in recent years as well as it could or should have. So when someone comes out with an award like this, it tells me that we're doing something right."
Brian Boyles, executive director of Mass Humanities, also praised Rutberg and his group for the work that they have done with The Eagle.
"We really believe that local communities need to be represented by great local newspapers. They are a cornerstone of our democracy," Boyle said. "Our understanding of what Fred has done makes it possible in the Berkshires for people to be heard and really preserves that local voice that is essential to local life."
Rutberg credited colleagues at The Eagle for him receiving the award.
"They've named me and I’m certainly the figurehead for Hans Morris, the late Bob Wilmers and the entire staff of the paper," he said. "I recognize that it's given to me metaphorically for everybody else, because that's the accomplishment."