BALTIMORE — Local information wars have largely gone the way in which of the telephone sales space as newspapers have shriveled and reporter jobs have been minimize. But one is taking form in Baltimore, bringing a new type of rivalry.
The Baltimore Banner, an internet information website that began publishing in latest weeks, is attempting to go head to head with the 185-year-old Baltimore Sun. The Banner has employed a few of The Sun’s greatest reporters, constructing a newsroom of greater than 40 folks up to now. And it has had a string of unique reporting, together with on a feud between the sons of the Baltimore Orioles’ proprietor over the way forward for the baseball crew.
This wasn’t the unique plan of Stewart W. Bainum Jr., the resort magnate behind The Banner. He tried to purchase The Sun final yr however misplaced out to Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund that has turn out to be the nation’s second-largest newspaper operator. Now he’s competing towards them, cautious of the plans that Alden, which is thought for reducing newsroom prices, has for The Sun.
“I kept thinking about local news during Covid, sitting here in Maryland, thinking about the dearth of local news,” Mr. Bainum, a longtime resident of Chevy Chase, Md., stated in an interview.
“I just think there has to be a way to figure this out,” he added.
The Banner, which fees for a subscription, is already one of many largest in a raft of native information start-ups which can be attempting to fill the void left by the closing and downsizing of 1000’s of newspapers across the nation for the reason that rise of the web. More than 360 native newspapers closed between late 2019 and May alone, in accordance to a report launched this week by Northwestern University’s journalism faculty. And Mr. Bainum has plans to construct The Banner to a newsroom of greater than 100, eclipsing the dimensions of The Sun, and has promised to contribute or elevate $50 million over the primary 4 years.
The daring entry is a take a look at of whether or not a subscription mannequin for digital-only native information may be sustainable past the preliminary philanthropic capital, and whether or not there’s an urge for food for a second massive information publication in cities the place competitors used to be commonplace. There are additionally a number of smaller digital information shops within the area, together with Baltimore Fishbowl, Baltimore Brew and Baltimore Witness. Axios plans to develop its native newsletters to the town this yr, and Baltimore Beat, a Black-run nonprofit, plans to resume publishing after a hiatus throughout the pandemic.
“If you’re really going to take on an established media entity in this kind of economic climate, you better go in like a samurai,” stated Josh Tyrangiel, a former Bloomberg Media and Vice government who grew up in Baltimore and supplied casual recommendation to Mr. Bainum.
“Don’t tread softly, go in forcefully, and expect that you’ll have to spend a lot of money on the product and to market the product,” Mr. Tyrangiel stated. “The people of Baltimore are now conditioned to expect very little from their newspaper.”
Trif Alatzas, the writer and editor in chief of The Sun, stated in a assertion that Baltimore Sun Media, which additionally encompasses a number of different native newspapers, was proud to have the most important news-gathering crew within the area, with 100 journalists whole.
While Mr. Alatzas didn’t reply to a query concerning the competitors posed by The Banner, he stated his paper’s subscriber numbers had elevated this yr.
“We continue to see growth, and we are looking forward to continuing to provide our readers with Baltimore’s most comprehensive news and information,” Mr. Alatzas stated.
Baltimore turned a battleground within the local-news disaster over two years in the past when Alden revealed that it had taken a 32 % stake in Tribune Publishing, the father or mother firm of The Sun and newspapers like The Chicago Tribune and The New York Daily News, making it the corporate’s largest shareholder.
Worried journalists started desperately searching for native homeowners to take over the newspapers due to the hedge fund’s repute for eking out income by gutting newsrooms. In February 2021, Tribune introduced that it had reached a deal to give Alden full possession and promote The Sun and two smaller Maryland publications to Mr. Bainum.
But the deal ran aground. Mr. Bainum then made bids for all of Tribune, together with a proposal valuing the corporate at about $650 million through which he would put up $200 million of his personal cash. In May 2021, shareholders voted to approve the sale of Tribune to Alden for roughly $630 million.
The failed try to purchase The Sun didn’t deter Mr. Bainum, who discovered himself energized by the considered organising a nonprofit newsroom to serve the town. Mr. Bainum, the chairman of Choice Hotels International and a former Maryland state legislator, consulted with different nonprofit leaders and executives at main media corporations to determine a mannequin that would work.
He labored with Ted Venetoulis, a former county government and writer in Baltimore who had lengthy been attempting to purchase The Sun. They determined that the perfect shot was beginning with a sizable newsroom with the perfect expertise they might discover, as a substitute of constructing slowly.
July 1, 2022, 5:40 p.m. ET
Running The Banner as a nonprofit would make it simpler to finance and to settle for contributions, in addition to simpler to do partnerships with different nonprofits locally.
Mr. Venetoulis died in October at age 87. The nonprofit group that runs The Banner was named the Venetoulis Institute for Local Journalism in his reminiscence.
Mr. Bainum employed Kimi Yoshino, a high editor at The Los Angeles Times, as editor in chief. Ms. Yoshino moved to Baltimore in January. She stated the overwhelming majority of the journalists she had employed had been from Baltimore or Maryland, or had beforehand labored there.
Liz Bowie, a longtime training reporter for The Sun who was a part of the crew that gained the Pulitzer Prize for native reporting in 2020, is among the hires.
“I worked at The Sun for 35 years, my husband worked at The Sun, my mother worked at The Sun,” Ms. Bowie stated in an interview. “So I was really committed to that institution.”
But, she added, “I sort of emotionally left The Sun” when shareholders voted to promote to Alden. Ms. Bowie joined The Banner this yr as certainly one of its first reporters.
“I think we’ll be able to be larger and we’ll cover more of the city because all of the money will go straight back into the journalism,” she stated.
In addition to Ms. Bowie, The Banner has employed the reporters Justin Fenton, Tim Prudente and Pamela Wood from The Sun. Mr. Fenton, an award-winning investigative reporter whose e-book about a corrupt Baltimore police unit, “We Own This City,” was just lately became an HBO collection, had labored at The Sun for 17 years.
He stated that he had watched The Sun’s newsroom diminish to a shadow of its former self, when it had international bureaus and 300 reporters, and that he was excited by the considered constructing one thing new.
“Now we’re going head to head,” he stated. “Can this town sustain two large news organizations?”
Imtiaz Patel, a former Dow Jones government who’s the chief government of The Banner, stated the working price range for the primary yr was about $15 million. He stated paid subscriptions could be about half the income combine, with promoting making up about a quarter and the remaining coming from issues like occasions and donations.
Readers can learn a sure variety of free articles a month earlier than a paid subscription is required. A subscription is $3.99 a week, or $155 for the yr.
Mr. Patel stated the objective was to get to 100,000 paid subscribers to break even and 5 million month-to-month distinctive views on the web site by 2025. He stated he needed to now not depend on funding from Mr. Bainum after a few years.
Mr. Bainum stated the objective was to construct a first-rate native information website for Baltimore and to determine whether or not it was a enterprise mannequin that may work elsewhere. But he additionally stated he wasn’t going to let the experiment final eternally.
“If at four or five years this is just a black hole, then you know there are other places to invest philanthropically,” Mr. Bainum stated. “But I’m going to stick with it for four or five years anyway at least.”