Sunday night memo dump II: Berkshire Eagle’s latest moves

OK, this isn’t really a memo—it’s a press release that was posted at the Berkshire Eagle Friday afternoon. And it’s an encouraging sign from the local ownership group that acquired the Pittsfield-based daily and its three sister papers in Vermont (the Brattleboro Reformer, the Bennington Banner, and the Manchester Journal) from the Digital First Media chain earlier this year.

Hans Morris, chairman of the board of New England Newspapers Inc., has announced the formation of The Berkshire Eagle advisory board.

Don MacGillis, a former Eagle executive editor, has agreed to serve as chairman of this newspaper’s first-of-its-kind group of advisers. [MacGillis is also a former editor on the Boston Globe’s editorial pages.]

“Don MacGillis has agreed to chair the advisory board, and I believe he is uniquely qualified to do so,” said Morris. “He is a newspaperman through and through, and he knows and cares about the Berkshires and The Berkshire Eagle. Plus, he has the time and desire to get involved.”

“The new owners of The Eagle and I look to the advisory board as a way to make sure the paper is connected to, and responsive to, as many corners of the Berkshire County community as possible,” MacGillis said.

To that end, 18 Berkshire-based board members will bring to bear their experience in community affairs and/or journalism as The Eagle strives to become the best local newspaper in the United States.

They also will be charged with helping improve The Eagle’s editing, reporting and writing; making suggestions about news coverage and story ideas; and increasing the number of contributors to the news and opinion pages.

The board, which met for the first time on Thursday, includes education and arts advocate Megan Whilden, former Time magazine editor Donald Morrison, journalist and author Simon Winchester, journalist Linda Greenhouse, editor and author Richard Lipez, Mass MoCA Director Joseph Thompson, museum director Barbara Palmer, health care expert Charles “Chip” Joffe-Halpern, journalist Bill Densmore, attorney Wendy Linscott, consultant and educator Shirley Edgerton, author Jennifer Trainer Thompson, musician Yo-Yo Ma, journalist Daniel Lippman, retired educator Will Singleton, public policy researcher Oren Cass, multicultural advocate Eleanore Velez, journalist and professor Elizabeth Kolbert, and photographer Gregory Crewdson.

The Eagle’s local ownership group includes Morris, Robert G. Wilmers and Fredric D. Rutberg, president of New England Newspapers. Also this week, Judi Lipsey, wife of the late Eagle co-owner Stanford Lipsey, was appointed to the board of New England Newspapers Inc.

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Still more on The Berkshire Eagle and the racist column

The fallout from The Berkshire Eagle’s decision to publish a racist column by “conservative activist” Steven Nikitas continues. Today The Boston Globe weighs in with a story that is currently ranked second among the paper’s top trending articles. (My earlier posts, with links to Nikitas’ column and editor Kevin Moran’s response, are here and here.)

The story, by Callum Borchers (a former student of mine), includes a misguided interpretation of the First Amendment by a journalist and blogger named Dan Valenti:

Dan Valenti, an adjunct professor of journalism at Berkshire Community College, said the Eagle made “absolutely the right call” when it chose to print the Nikitas column. If anything should have been withheld, it was Moran’s defense, which Valenti contended was unnecessary.

“The Eagle had a duty to publish it to start this very debate that has followed,” said Valenti, who runs a news and commentary blog called Planet Valenti. “We have to decide in this case whether we believe in the First Amendment or we don’t.”

The first of these two paragraphs represents Valenti’s opinion, and though I strongly disagree with him, he’s welcome to it. But the second paragraph is just plain wrong. All of us enjoy the protections of the First Amendment — including The Berkshire Eagle, which had an absolute right under the First Amendment to publish Nikitas’ column, reject it or (my preferred option) use it as the basis for reporting on racism in the community.

Following Valenti’s logic, I shouldn’t be wasting my time on this blog post — I should be emailing Andrew Rosenthal, the editorial-page editor of The New York Times, demanding my First Amendment right to a regular column. Once a week would be fine; I like my day job and wouldn’t want to have to give it up.

Valenti expounds on his views of the First Amendment at some length in this recent post on the Confederate flag. As you might guess, he believes its display is protected by the First Amendment. And it is! Anyone can fly it on his or her private property. And everyone has a First Amendment right to urge the state government of South Carolina to remove it (or not) from public display. (For some reason Valenti is also very excited about the difference between various types of Confederate flags.)

By the way, Eagle editor Kevin Moran, whose column defending his decision to publish Nikitas’ column has been controversial in its own right, has been a busy guy lately. Anne Galloway of the nonprofit news site VT Digger reports that New England Newspapers Inc. — part of the incredible shrinking Digital First chain — laid off 10 editorial employees last Friday. Among the papers affected were the Eagle and Vermont’s Brattleboro Reformer, Bennington Banner and Manchester Journal. Moran is regional vice president of the papers.

No snark. Though I disagree with Moran’s decision to publish Nikitas’ column, his explanation shows that he did so with the best of intentions. And I’m sure he’s devastated by the cuts at these once-thriving newspapers.