First published in Poynter on August 10, 2021
Maryland hotel executive Stewart Bainum Jr.’s stalled plan for a nonprofit news launch in Baltimore is moving forward again.
Six postings on the Jooble site seek various mid-level executives to plan a multimedia and comprehensive news startup for the city.
A source familiar with Bainum’s thinking said plans are still preliminary, and the project might yet be found not to be feasible. But the source conceded this is a strong signal that Bainum wants to go ahead with an alternative after his attempt to put together a deal this spring to buy all of Tribune Publishing failed.
The ad for a chief product officer reads as follows:
Location: Baltimore / DC Area
The company is a high profile well-funded startup that is supported by some of the top names in the industry, including The Lenfest Institute, Bloomberg and Stewart Bainum. Solely focused on the Baltimore area, they are creating a new paradigm for digital first, cross-channel local media. Their content will extend across web, mobile (app), radio (terrestrial and satellite) and video (TV and digital). Their vision is to be the leading provider of news and lifestyle content in the Baltimore area.
The company is searching for a Chief Product Officer who will report to the CEO. This key role will be responsible for the strategy behind their platforms and products and the execution of that strategy.
The Chief Product Officer will build a team and shape the processes, culture and structure of the engineering organization. He/she will develop close partnerships with external vendors and supplement their efforts with a small and nimble team of in-house engineering and product management professionals.
Other positions open are vice president of technology strategy and operations; vice president of analytics; head of audience development; head of brand marketing; and head of social media.
Bainum envisions taking on The Baltimore Sun, one of the nine Tribune Publishing papers that hedge fund Alden Global Capital acquired for $630 million. Late last year he had a tentative agreement to acquire the Sun for $65 million and convert it to a nonprofit once Alden completed its takeover.
But that side transaction came apart, and Alden has since shown no interest in resuming sales talks, the source close to Bainum said.
Michael Bloomberg, who has made huge donations to his alma mater, Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins, does have an interest in helping, the source said, but not as a donor/investor. Rather he would provide access to Bloomberg publishing staff for tech and product design.
Similarly, the nonprofit Lenfest Institute, which owns The Philadelphia Inquirer, is not likely to invest but has been advising Bainum since late last year. In the spring, he tried to put together a group of hometown owners who would buy the whole company and break it up. That plan faltered when he was unable to find an interested buyer for the chain’s largest paper, the Chicago Tribune.
On May 21, as Tribune Publishing shareholders approved the sale to Alden, Bainum issued a statement that his focus was turning back to Baltimore. He expected to make an announcement “in the days ahead,” he said, to continue the city’s “proud tradition of impactful journalism.”
The timetable has turned from days into months, but the source said to expect an announcement if details of the venture jell sometime this fall.
Several local foundations in Baltimore have expressed interest in participating financially.
Alden, meanwhile, continues its reputation of making deep slashes to maximize profit at properties it acquires. The NewsGuild documented that unionized news staff was cut by as much as a third during the 18 months Alden had gained seats on the Tribune Publishing board before gaining full control. And it instituted another round of buyouts immediately after the sale.
The Chicago Tribune was hit especially hard as many of its marquee columnists chose to leave. On Tuesday, Alden replaced Chicago Tribune editor-in-chief Colin McMahon with Mitch Pugh, who has been top editor of The Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina.
This article was originally published on Poynter.org by Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst for the Poynter Institute.