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Lipsey, Wilmers part of group buying 4 New England newspapers

M&T Bank Chairman Robert G. Wilmers and Buffalo News Publisher Emeritus Stanford Lipsey are part of an investment group that has acquired the Berkshire Eagle in western Massachusetts and three Vermont newspapers.

Wilmers and Lipsey, who retired from The News at the end of 2012, are part of a four-person ownership group that returns the Eagle to local ownership for the first time in more than two decades after completing the purchase of the papers from its previous corporate owner, Digital First Media.

“We want to focus on having a great local newspaper,” Wilmers said Thursday during a news conference in Pittsfield, Mass., the Eagle reported. “We don’t believe newspapers are dying.”

Wilmers owns a home in Stockbridge, Mass., and two other members of the ownership group also live in the area. The new ownership group pledged to restore top-quality local journalism to the newspapers, which include the Bennington Banner and the Manchester Journal, along with the Brattleboro Reformer in Vermont.

The sale is expected to be completed on May 2. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

In addition to Wilmers and Lipsey, the principals of the new ownership group, Birdland Acquisition, includes John C. “Hans” Morris, a Stockbridge resident who is the former president of Visa Inc., and retired Pittsfield District Court Judge Fredric D. Rutberg, who will be the president of the newspaper group.

“The Berkshire Eagle is the village square of Berkshire County,” Rutberg said during the news conference. “Our plan is to grow the newspaper, not shrink it.”

The Eagle’s publisher, Edward L. Woods, will remain in his position under the new ownership, the newspaper said in its announcement of the sale.

The new owners intend to keep current management in place and plan to hire additional staff, according to the report. The new owners also said they plan to enhance the size and content of the newspapers, while upgrading their websites.

“We’re going to increase the quality and the quantity of the content,” Morris said.