The article below originally appeared in The New York Times on July 1, 2022. The full article can be found here.

The internet has pretty much killed local news wars. The Baltimore Banner, a nonprofit start-up, is trying to change that by taking on The Baltimore Sun.

Local news wars have largely gone the way of the phone booth as newspapers have shriveled and reporter jobs have been cut. But one is taking shape in Baltimore, bringing a new kind of rivalry.

The Baltimore Banner, an online news site that started publishing in recent weeks, is trying to go head to head with the 185-year-old Baltimore Sun. The Banner has hired some of The Sun’s best reporters, building a newsroom of more than 40 people so far. And it has had a string of exclusive reporting, including on a feud between the sons of the Baltimore Orioles’ owner over the future of the baseball team.

This wasn’t the original plan of Stewart W. Bainum Jr., the hotel magnate behind The Banner. He tried to buy The Sun last year but lost out to Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund that has become the country’s second-largest newspaper operator. Now he’s competing against them, wary of the plans that Alden, which is known for cutting newsroom costs, 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., said in an interview.

“I just think there has to be a way to figure this out,” he added.

The Banner, which charges for a subscription, is already one of the largest in a raft of local news start-ups that are trying to fill the void left by the closing and downsizing of thousands of newspapers around the country since the rise of the internet. More than 360 local newspapers closed between late 2019 and May alone, according to a report released this week by Northwestern University’s journalism school. And Mr. Bainum has plans to build The Banner to a newsroom of more than 100, eclipsing the size of The Sun, and has promised to contribute or raise $50 million over the first four years.

The bold entry is a test of whether a subscription model for digital-only local news can be sustainable beyond the initial philanthropic capital, and whether there’s an appetite for a second large news publication in cities where competition used to be commonplace. There are also several smaller digital news outlets in the region, including Baltimore FishbowlBaltimore Brew and Baltimore Witness. Axios plans to expand its local newsletters to the city this year, and Baltimore Beat, a Black-run nonprofit, plans to resume publishing after a hiatus during the pandemic.

This article was originally published in The New York Times by Katie Robertson. Find the full New York Times article here.

The interview below originally aired on WYPR’s On The Record show on June 23, 2022.

Kimi Yoshino had established an impressive career in journalism– she was managing editor of the Los Angeles Times — when business magnate Stewart Bainum asked her to leave all that to become editor-in-chief of the online news operation he was starting: The Baltimore Banner.

Listen to the full interview here.

The interview below originally aired on Baltimore Positive on June 22, 2022.

Nestor welcomes The Baltimore Banner leadership team to Slainte to talk media and future of our city

Listen to the full interview here.

The article below originally appeared on CBS Baltimore on June 14, 2022. The full story can be found here.

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The Baltimore Banner, an all-digital non-profit news outlet funded by hotel magnate Stewart Bainum Jr., officially launched on Tuesday.

A sampling of the initial offerings, some of which are limited to subscribers: a writeup of a poll on how Baltimoreans would fix the city, a look at the persistent problem of vacant houses in Baltimore, and a feature on the “paradox of Francis Scott Key,” writer of the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

Although the Banner has published multiple stories through its email newsletter in the lead-up to today’s launch, including the details of a legal feud between the sons of Orioles owner Peter Angelos, a full website did not go online until Tuesday.

The Banner currently has 42 journalists on staff and plans to have 70 by the end of the year, the company said in a news release.

Bainum and his family launched the Venetoulis Institute for Local Journalism — named for former Baltimore County Executive Ted Venetoulis, who worked as a news executive after politics — to oversee operations of the Banner.

Find the full article here.

The conversation below originally aired on WYPR’s Midday show on June 10, 2022.

The Baltimore Banner: betting on a bright future for local journalism

We begin today with a conversation about an exciting development that will transform and enrich the media landscape in Baltimore.

The Baltimore Banner will begin publishing soon. The Banner is a multi-platform news organization, launched under the aegis of the non-profit Venetoulis Institute for Local Journalism, that has attracted top talent from Baltimore and around the country, and it may turn out that it’s riding something of a wave in journalism. Non-profit newsrooms are springing-up and succeeding across the country in cities large and small. The Institute for Non-Profit News reports that in 2020, “Web traffic to nonprofit news sites grew by 43%.”

Listen to the full conversation here.

The article below originally appeared on Radio+Television Business Report on May 23, 2022. The full story can be found here.

A multi-platform news organization established by The Venetoulis Institute for Local Journalism has teamed up with “Your Public Radio” — the main NPR Member station serving Baltimore — for the creation of a joint operating agreement that will allow each organization to work collaboratively “to deliver quality journalism” across the state of Maryland.

The pact involves YPR, based at WYPR-FM 88.1 in Baltimore and heard in both Frederick and Ocean City on WYPF-FM and WYPO-FM, respectively; and the Baltimore Banner.

Find the full article here.

Nonprofit organizations will collaborate, share resources, expand reach to deliver local news across the region and state

BALTIMORE, May 19, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — The Baltimore Banner, a multi-platform news organization established by The Venetoulis Institute for Local Journalism, and Your Public Radio (WYPR) 88.1FM, Baltimore’s NPR news station, today announced a joint operating agreement that will allow the nonprofit organizations to work collaboratively to deliver quality journalism across the state.  

Your Public Radio is an independent community licensee and a top-ranking news/talk station in the market airing local, national and international radio content. WYPR excels in local programming and journalism through outstanding shows like Midday and On the Record as well as its award-winning newsroom. With signals in Baltimore (WYPR 88.1 FM), Frederick (WYPF 88.1 FM) and Ocean City (WYPO 106.9 FM), the station also produces and distributes award-winning local podcasts through its Your Public Studios including favorites like The Daily DoseThe Maryland Curiosity Bureau, Essential Tremors, as well as newly added Local Color, The Bounce and Wavelength. Recently, in November 2021, Your Public Radio acquired WTMD 89.7 FM, preserving WTMD’s license, music discovery format and community connection to local artists, musicians and music lovers.

Both teams will work together to cover stories, special reports and develop joint programming to serve the needs of communities throughout Baltimore and around the state. This includes content sharing across platforms accessible to Baltimore Banner subscribers and the Your Public Radio audience and members. One of the first collaborations will be to cover the upcoming local elections.

The agreement provides an opportunity to expand the capacity and reach of each organization’s newsroom, increasing their ability to cover more issues and stories that matter. The teams will work together, leveraging WYPR’s audio expertise to create a series of joint podcasts and radio programming. The organizations are committed to working collaboratively to strengthen local news by leveraging platforms to reach a broader audience throughout the state and expanding their distribution channels to include, radio, podcasts, video, data and visual journalism.

“We are looking forward to the possibilities of this unique model of nonprofit news as we work to preserve and strengthen local journalism here in greater Baltimore,” said LaFontaine E. Oliver, president of Your Public Radio and general manager of WYPR. “This partnership between Your Public Radio and The Baltimore Banner is an important step to bolster our local newsrooms in Maryland – with trusted, community reporting at the core of the agreement between the two organizations.”

“We are excited to partner with WYPR, an NPR news Member station, with a long history demonstrating the principles and values we share at The Baltimore Banner,” said Imtiaz Patel, chief executive officer of The Venetoulis Institute for Local Journalism. “Our goal is to strengthen Baltimore’s local reporting, growing our coverage statewide. This partnership is a force multiplier for both organizations to expand our coverage and bring the very best local news to the region and state. We can’t imagine a better partner than LaFontaine and the WYPR family to serve the varied needs of Baltimore’s communities and have a positive impact.” 

In addition to content sharing, newsroom collaboration and the ability to reach a broader audience, the agreement allows expanded marketing and sponsorship opportunities to be offered, creating added value for sponsors and financial support for both organizations. The Baltimore Banner will benefit from access to WYPR’s strong dedicated listenership and network of supporters, including recently acquired WTMD 89.7 FM.

About The Baltimore Banner

The Baltimore Banner is a multi-platform news operation, covering a broad range of topics from local government to culture and the arts. The Baltimore Banner was created by The Venetoulis Institute for Local Journalism, a nonprofit organization founded in 2021 to bring high-quality local journalism to the Baltimore metro area.

Sign up for email updates and a free newsletter at www.thebaltimorebanner.com.

About Your Public Radio

Your Public Radio serves Baltimore, Central Maryland and beyond. NPR station WYPR was founded in 2002 by local community members. It is an independent licensee with a diverse Board of Directors consisting of Maryland residents. In addition to airing national and international radio features, WYPR excels in local programming including its news, public affairs and cultural programs, and in 2021, Your Public Radio acquired WTMD 89.7 FM, preserving its award-winning music discovery format and expanding Your Public Radio programming for the community. WYPR is located at 88.1 FM on the radio dial and at 2216 N. Charles Street in Baltimore. WTMD is located at 89.7 FM on the radio dial and at 1 Olympic Plaza in Towson. As listener-supported radio stations, all contributions to the stations are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law. For more information, visit www.wypr.org or www.wtmd.org.

Contact:
Rick Abbruzzese
410-790-5002
ra@kopublicaffairs.com

Amy Burke Friedman
410-382-5496
afriedman@profilespr.com 

An “E&P Reports” Vodcast with Mike Blinder

This story originally appeared on Editor and Publisher on April 30, 2022. The full story can be found here.

The Baltimore Banner website proudly displays a mission: “To be the leading provider of news and lifestyle content in the Baltimore metro area,” which Nielsen ranks as the 26th largest Designated Market Area (DMA) in the United States. Currently, the city has 11 newspapers, four broadcast TV news operations and a full-time news/talk radio outlet.

But when the well-known CEO of Choice Hotels International and philanthropist Stewart Bainum’s battle with Alden Capitol to acquire the Baltimore Sun from Tribune media failed, he turned to an already strategized “Plan B.” He pledged $50 million of his own money to enter the market as a standalone, digital-only, nonprofit news platform: The Baltimore Banner.

This story was originally published in Editor and Publisher. Find the full interview here.

Digital experiments try different ways to fill a glaring gap

The article below originally appeared in The Economist on April 16, 2022. The full story can be found here.

In its heyday in the 1950s, the spacious five-storey redbrick building on North Calvert Street housed the hundreds of employees of the Baltimore Sun, the city’s pre-eminent newspaper. Like other local papers across America, the Sun has since fallen on hard times. In 2018, after years of lay-offs, it moved out of downtown.

Back at the city’s Inner Harbour, construction crews hurry in and out of a former power plant. They are converting the building into office space for a new occupant aspiring to fill the gap left by the Sun’s shrinking presence. When it launches online this spring, the Baltimore Banner, a non-profit news organisation backed by a local businessman and philanthropist, Stewart Bainum junior, aims to boast more writers than its crosstown rival. “Our goal is to make sure Baltimore doesn’t become a news desert,” says Imtiaz Patel, the ceo.

The slow death of local news in America is a well-documented phenomenon. The internet has ended the monopolies on news and advertising once enjoyed by local media. But a wave of startups is betting that a digital-first strategy, with its reach and low costs, can reverse the decline. The initiatives are experimenting with a variety of business models.

The scale of the collapse of local news has been stunning. In a report published in 2020 Penelope Abernathy, a professor now at the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, found that 1,800 communities that had a local news outlet 16 years earlier now had none. Two-thirds of counties lack a daily newspaper.

Political scientists believe the consequences have been severe. The demise of local news has been linked to greater political polarisation, declining participation in local elections and reduced accountability for local elected officials, leading to more corruption. It has also contributed to the growing nationalisation of politics, with a voter’s choice for president increasingly predictive of their choice for school-board representative. Some people are now prepared to throw money at the problem.

One way is through philanthropy. Rich benefactors propping up local news is nothing new—the Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post all rely to varying degrees on patrons with money to spare. New ventures like the Baltimore Banner reckon it is an advantage not to be weighed down by the legacy infrastructure of print. The American Journalism Project gives grants to non-profit local news organisations across the country, with an eye to cultivating sustainable businesses. But what if the philanthropists lose interest? “What Stewart provides is seed capital,” says Mr Patel. “Longer term, we are aiming for a diversity of revenue sources.”

Other startups are leveraging one of the internet’s oldest innovations: the email newsletter. In the vanguard is Substack, a technology company that provides the tools and infrastructure for writers to establish their own paid email subscriptions. Although many of the platform’s best-known publications cater to a national audience, some are focusing locally.

After the national magazine he worked on closed in 2018, Tony Mecia pondered a return to life as a freelancer in Charlotte, North Carolina. But after seeing how many local stories went unreported even by the city’s main paper, Mr Mecia decided to start his own newsletter on Substack, the Charlotte Ledger. “It’s a turnkey solution, I probably never would have started the Ledger without something like Substack,” says Mr Mecia. With no need for external financing, the business can grow with subscribers, and Mr Mecia can focus on reporting.

Some national digital-news organisations believe their formula can work locally. Axios, mostly known for its daily email newsletters on national politics, started Axios Local last year to deliver regular email newsletters tailored to 14 cities, with 11 more soon to come. With its headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, handling operations, and leveraging a well known brand, Axios is betting that its ad-supported newsletters will allow it to invest in local journalists. “From a business perspective, we go where there’s population, audience and money first, and then work our way out to the harder-to-reach areas,” explains Jim VandeHei, the ceo of Axios.

The range of experiments is encouraging, and all are eager, like the Baltimore Banner, to stress the conservatism of their strategies, prioritising long-run sustainability ahead of growth at all costs. But success in local news, whatever the model, will not be easy. And Ms Abernathy worries that these new digital initiatives will leave much of the country untouched outside America’s major cities. “In these places”, she says, “there’s no one left to hold the powerful accountable.” 

This article appeared in the United States section of the print edition of The Economist under the headline “Enter the startups.”

The article below originally appeared on MediaPost on March 28, 2022. The full article can be found here.

In the next few months, a high-profile, highly anticipated, digital-only newspaper, the nonprofit Baltimore Banner, will open for business, and it might represent a significant development in the deeply distressed newspaper industry, especially for local news.

The Banner won’t be the first nonprofit media endeavor. At least two major newspapers, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Salt Lake Tribune, have gone nonprofit in recent years, in effect becoming community assets and relying less on ad revenue and more on donors in the same way that NPR and other publicly supported media organizations do. The trend is accelerating among local media.

But the Banner might be the best-funded nonprofit local-media startup. It’s being launched by the billionaire hotel magnate Stewart Bainum Jr., who has committed substantial funding. Bainum came onto the newspaper scene a year ago, when the notorious hedge fund Alden Global Capital was in the process of buying the Tribune Co., publisher of nine major metropolitan dallies, including such marquee brands as the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, the New York Daily News, the Hartford Courant, the Virginian-Pilot and the Orlando Sentinel.

Bainum had agreed to buy the Baltimore Sun in a $65 million side deal from Alden. At the time, he indicated he wanted to run the paper as a nonprofit. But then in March 2021 he lost confidence in Alden, which he said was changing the terms of their agreement. Instead, he put together a $680 million deal for the whole company, teaming up with the Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss and exceeding the Alden offer.

But Wyss pulled out in mid-April of 2021, and in May, Tribune shareholders approved the Alden deal. Bainum promised to proceed with a digital startup, and now The Banner’s objectives are taking shape. “The overall mission is to make life better for the people of Baltimore, especially those who have been ignored,” Bainum told Northwestern University’s Local News Initiative earlier this month. “The local goal is pretty obvious: to create a news outlet that strengthens the community, that tells the stories of the people of Baltimore and holds our leaders to account.”

”Secondly,” he continued, “is the national goal: to do that in a financially sustainable way, at scale, so it can be replicated by others in communities in all 50 states, as a public good.”

Bainum has committed to donating or raising $50 million over five years for the Banner, which now has a CEO and an editor in chief. As of February, it had hired 10 editors and reporters, Poynter reported, with a goal of 35-40 reporters in place for the launch and 60 by the end of 2023. The goal is 100,000 paying subscribers in four years. Advertising will comprise 15% of the mature company’s revenue, the Local News Initiative noted in a separate 1,680-word report on the Banner’s launch.

Why does all this matter? Because it’s one of a handful but growing number of nonprofit journalism operations, and this one is in a major metro region with significant financial backing.

In the end, with the commercial newspaper model having contracted or collapsed in many markets, there may be just three viable capitalization paths left for many local-news operations: billionaire, financial, or nonprofit ownership.

The first — where millionaire or billionaire investors leverage wealth and community stature into media ownership — seems to work.

Among the examples: Jeff Bezos’ 2013 acquisition of TheWashington Post, Red Sox owner John Henry with the Boston Globe, Sheldon Adelson with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and Patrick Soon-Shiong’s purchase of the Los Angeles Times in 2018.

But it can’t scale. There aren’t enough billionaires looking to buy newspapers.
The second — well, we know how that’s working out.

That leaves nonprofit models, and that’s why the Baltimore Banner experiment has attracted so much interest.

This article was originally published on MediaPost by Tony Silber. Find the full article here.

Stay Connected

Stay Connected

Sign up to receive the latest updates about our mission.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Share Your Ideas

Do you have suggestions for how we can better serve the local community? We want your input! Send us a note at:

community@venetoulisinstitute.org