READING, PA (July 1, 2019) – Today marks the end of an era for the Greater Reading region. After more than 150 years of family ownership, the Reading Eagle newspaper and its attached radio station, WEEU, will no longer be owned by local families. Instead, MediaNews Group (MNG) will own and operate the paper while WEEU will be owned by Oil City-based Twilight Broadcasting.
The weeks since March 20 when Reading Eagle Company declared bankruptcy have been as traumatic for this community as anything I’ve experienced. Hundreds of people have stopped me on the street, called, emailed or come to see me to ask “what’s going to happen?” or “what can be done?” or the somewhat more terrifying “what is the Community Foundation going to do about this?”
The news that Reading Eagle Company was declaring bankruptcy focused a spotlight on the importance of community journalism to our region. Without good, independent journalism, a community would begin to whither. Voters would no longer be able to make informed decisions at the ballot box. Parents wouldn’t have the information they need to decide where to send their children to school. And yes, we wouldn’t know who won last night’s high school football game.
One of the most important roles the news media plays is holding government officials accountable. It’s a sad reality that Berks County’s history of corrupt public officials isn’t just history. But it was the Reading Eagle that, in 2000, first uncovered evidence of corruption in the county coroner’s office. The relentless coverage of the dysfunction in the Reading School District led to changes in both management and the school board. And without the Reading Eagle, Berks Heim might very well have been sold with hardly anyone knowing it was happening.
So we welcome MNG and Twilight Broadcasting to Berks County with the expectation that they will continue to be stewards of these important community resources, much as the families who preceded them were.
Still, at the Community Foundation, we know that the nature of how communities create, distribute and consume news is changing. That’s one of the reasons we created Berks Vital Signs, a site where citizens can go to get regularly-updated, independently-researched information about the community and how it’s performing in a wide range of areas. We’ve begun to expand that effort through deep-dive reporting like a recently published story on how technology is transforming public education in Berks County.
There will continue to be other sources of news as well. WFMZ, bctv.org and Reading Magazine provide news across a variety of platforms. And social media, weekly newspapers and several other outlets all perform functions that help keep us informed.
The Community Foundation will continue to monitor and work with local media, seeking to identify and fill gaps in the community news environment as we can.
But in the meantime, we welcome MNG and Twilight Broadcasting. We look forward to great things.
Kevin K. Murphy, President
Berks County Community Foundation