May 4, 2020; Baltimore Magazine
An unusual collaboration among news guilds, two local foundations, and other investors would transform the famed Baltimore Sun newspaper into a nonprofit, under the theory that the new structure would better serve the public and the profession of journalism. The paper, which was bought by the hedge fund-controlled Tribune Publishing ten years ago, has gone through waves of layoffs and furloughs and a strike action by reporters and photographers.
This scene, of course, is somewhat familiar, as corporate investors take their cut first despite the damage done to the product and its surrounding community.
“As a nonprofit, any profits The Sun makes could be put back into making sure that it becomes a better newspaper,” says reporter Liz Bowie, co-chair of the local unit of the Washington-Baltimore News Guild. “We could have more reporters, more photographers, more editors.”
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“We want better job security,” adds reporter Scott Dance, The Sun’s unit chair. “And we want to make sure the journalism is sustainable and invested in. As a nonprofit, it would eliminate some of those demands for a huge profit margin.”
The bidders are rich in newspaper experience; one, the Abell Foundation, was created by the family that founded The Sun, and another is Baltimore County executive Ted Venetoulis, a former owner of community newspapers who has aided previous attempts to return the Sun to community ownership. The Goldseker Foundation, another large Baltimore-based private foundation, is also part of the bidding group, as are some additional unnamed private investors.
“If a city loses its professional sports teams, it loses its spirit. If a city loses its newspapers, it loses its soul,” Venetoulis said in a press release. “We fight to keep our ball clubs. It’s time to fight to keep our newspaper.”
This takes place in a world where the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for locally controlled local news and follows the recent transformation of two other large city newspapers—the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Salt Lake Tribune. Poynter covers the proposal in more depth here, and in anticipation of a May 21st meeting with the Tribune, guild members have created a “Save Our Sun” campaign and website.—Ruth McCambridge