August 15, 2017; Poynter
When it was announced that the City Paper, an alternative weekly, would be shutting down later this year, journalism supporters in Baltimore took a page from Boston. Based on a model created by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism (BINJ), the Baltimore Institute for Nonprofit Journalism (also BINJ) has started a fundraising effort to help make up for the loss of the paper and other progressive media in the city.
As reported by Poynter, the new Baltimore BINJ started an Indiegogo crowdfunding effort on August 11th with the goal of raising $25,000 in the next month. As of August 21, it had raised $4,670 from 74 backers.
“Baltimore is facing a crisis of journalism,” said the intro to the project on Indiegogo. “Because no one can make enough money distributing the news they report, no one has enough money to report the news we need.”
The project to raise money for freelancers to do investigative or other projects involving traditionally underreported areas sounds both bold (it is proposing “a guerrilla newsroom raiding the ruins of corporate media and fixing Baltimore’s media desert”) but also humble (“we’re still not sure how to save individual progressive media institutions”).
The Baltimore BINJ was founded by Baynard Woods, Brandon Soderberg, and Marc Steiner, whose local progressive radio show went off the air in Baltimore in July.
Even for journalists working in traditional (now mostly corporate-owned) newspapers, radio, and television, the media landscape in the last 10 years has been particularly brutal, as a seemingly never-ending series of cutbacks along with the positive spin mantra “We will do more with less!” has taken hold. (There is a certain point where one has to do less with less.)
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That effect is multiplied for alternative progressive media, like the Baltimore City Paper, which seek to tell different stories than corporate-owned outlets. It should be noted that City Paper was actually bought by the corporation that owns the Baltimore Sun—the paper to which it was supposed to be an alternative—a few years ago. It was the Baltimore Sun Media Group that decided to shut down the alternative weekly.
The result has been a lessening of true choices for readers, or a “media desert.” NPQ has reported on this phenomena and attempts by nonprofits to rectify it, usually by trying to find alternative means of consistent funding for journalism that has been hardest hit by cutbacks—like investigative journalism, which can be both expensive to do right and also often exposes abuses and corruption by people in power. These efforts include consortiums started by already high-powered professional journalists such as ProPublica and The Marshall Project as well as grassroots efforts to bring the work of citizen journalists directly to readers and listeners, like the DTL! Comunicacion Popular organization in Argentina.
The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, which inspired the fledgling Baltimore effort, has published more than 40 features and 200 columns since its founding in 2015.
In Baltimore, the first projects to be funded would be for students working with Writers in Baltimore Schools, a multimedia longform project on street basketball, and an investigative piece on white supremacy and Baltimore-area law enforcement.
While the funding is for piecemeal projects for now, the goal is to find consistent funding for independent journalism in Baltimore, perhaps eventually funding whole beats.
“The smaller players aren’t going to be competing, they’ll be collaborating,” said Woods, editorial director of the Baltimore BINJ. “The Baltimore Sun has great reporters but they’re increasingly understaffed…No one has the resources to cover these things…this is a way to try to fund those stories.”
Woods added in the Poynter interview: “I do think…the way alternative media has functioned for the last several decades really is a relic now, and it really has to function in a different way in order to survive. I think this is the future for journalism in Baltimore.”—Nancy Young