July 1, 2022
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 Fishbowl, Baltimore 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.