A Letter from the Founder of The Venetoulis Institute

October 26, 2021

Dear fellow Marylanders:

I have no formal training in the practice of journalism but somewhere along the way I learned the essential questions that must be answered when reporting the news: what, when, where, who, how and why? So, allow me to use these same questions to explain why I founded The Venetoulis Institute and put this ambitious journalistic endeavor in motion.

What is The Venetoulis Institute?

The Venetoulis Institute for Local Journalism is a nonprofit organization founded to focus on the future of local news. It exists in no small part because of the dedication to this cause of my friend and colleague who just recently passed. Ted Venetoulis was a former Baltimore County Executive, local publisher and renown civic leader who was a champion of reinvigorating and sustaining local news through nonprofit ownership. True to Ted’s vision, The Institute’s mission is to build a more sustainable model to provide essential and unbiased journalism to the underserved communities that need it most. It all starts right here in Baltimore, where I have assembled a team that is busy building a not-for-profit digital news source. With a deep roster of experienced reporters as diverse as the city itself, our newsroom will amplify all voices, hold our leaders to account and, ultimately, create a local news source worthy of our readers’ support. And so, I am proud to introduce to you our soon-to-be multi-platform news source for the people of Baltimore and its surrounding communities. Say hello to The Baltimore Banner.

The Banner takes its name from a piece of our local history that still resonates around the world: the celebrated “star-spangled banner” that waved over nearby Fort McHenry after a battle where the fate of our young country hung in the balance. And because it did, the American Experiment in self-government continues. The name also signifies this part of our mission: to carry the banner of our city’s proud tradition of impactful journalism into our future.

Why local news?

For the better part of the 19th and 20th centuries, Baltimore was a hotbed of stellar journalism, the home of three great daily newspapers essential to the strength of our city and the lives of our citizens. Today, the newspaper industry is nowhere near what it was, and the number of local reporters has greatly diminished — all to the detriment of the people and city of Baltimore.

Dogged journalists have long served as the watchdogs of our public institutions but that is only one part of what makes local news indispensable. At its best, local news is also the sound of our civic conversation — neighbors talking to neighbors, exchanging ideas and opinions, promoting empathy, and easing polarization. In its absence, it’s fair to ask: how can people hope to effectively govern themselves? And in this era when our democratic institutions are under great strain, local news is more important than ever.

Where can this news and content be found?

On the very same screen you are reading this now — whether it be your phone, your tablet, laptop, or desktop. Our goal is to become a leading provider of local news and lifestyle content in the region, spanning across multiple media platforms.

As we continue to build The Banner over the months ahead, you can follow our progress at http://www.venetoulisinstitute.org or stay connected via your preferred social media channel.

What is at stake?

This enterprise exists to make a real difference here in Baltimore and to reinvent the kind of journalism every community needs. And so, we have established two goals: one local and one national.

First, to create a first-rate newsroom that tells the stories of Baltimore and its people, strengthens our communities, and holds our leaders to account.

And second, to build a sustainable business model for local news that can be replicated in communities across all fifty states.

Because the traditional business model of local news is broken, the time has come to move on from the idea that local news has to be a business at all. Today, people are coming to understand local news as a public trust, akin to our libraries, museums, and cultural institutions. And I for one believe it is possible to create a better and sustainable business model for local news, one that does not answer to the stockholders of a company but the stakeholders of a community. Operated as a non-profit, The Baltimore Banner will return its excess cash flow directly into the very content and products that serve our community.

Who am I?

Not really important — except to say I am a business person with deep Maryland roots. My dad built a couple of businesses here and later I took the reins and built them some more. My wife Sandy and I raised our two sons here and I have long been engaged in civic matters, including eight years in Maryland’s House of Delegates and Senate. In recent years, I have been learning more about how best to have a meaningful social impact. And I’ve learned that I can make my greatest contribution by investing early in underfunded but high impact initiatives and challenging others to join the cause.

Right now, the issue that is top of mind for me is local journalism and how to sustain it. I am proud to help get this important project off the ground. And now it is up to us all to support local journalism as if the future of our city — and our democracy — depends on it. Because more than likely, it does.

How can you help?

This quest to create a better and sustainable business model for local news will require the support of many. Public leaders. Private Companies. Far-sighted philanthropists. But no one is more critical to the success of this venture than the community of readers that it serves. To put it plainly, if robust and sustainable local news is indeed critical to Baltimore’s future, then the future of Baltimore depends upon you! Why? Because there is no better way to be an engaged and informed citizen than to subscribe to a trusted local news organization. This is the essential idea that inspired the creation of The Venetoulis Institute for Local Journalism. And now we set out to build a news organization that earns the trust and support of its community. Ultimately, The Baltimore Banner, local journalism, and maybe even democracy itself will only succeed when people value it enough to sustain it over time.

Stewart Bainum, Jr.

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