Local ownership may be the key to keeping the venerable Baltimore Sun a viable part of its community.
Like many other newsrooms, The Sun is facing hard times. Two decades ago, with multiple international bureaus and a large presence just down the highway in Washington, D.C., the paper’s staff numbered in the hundreds. Now it’s down to about 80.
Just weeks after winning a Pulitzer Prize for local coverage for their work investigating a former mayor, many in the city are wondering who will own the paper and what it will mean for the Baltimore community.
“The Sun is vital to the civic life of Baltimore and the entire central Maryland region,” says Matt Gallagher of the Goldseker Foundation, an organization that is trying to assume ownership and responsibility for the Sun. “It really is part of the fabric of this great city. It’s an institution that’s incredibly important to save right now.”
Liz Bowie, a member of the Sun’s staff and of the Washington-Baltimore News Guild, says the stretched-thin staff is doing the best it can to continue reporting on the important matters, but admits it’s getting very difficult.
Looming overhead is the knowledge that Tribune Publishing, which has owned the paper for some time, sold one-third stake in The Baltimore Sun to Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund based in New York City. At the end of June, Alden Capital will take a controlling interest in Tribune Publishing.
“There have been past efforts mounted to try and convince the out-of-town ownership of The Sun to sell to civic-minded owners who are interested in converting The Sun to a nonprofit in the hopes of putting it on more stable footing going forward and position the Sun for more investment,” Gallagher says. “The Goldseker Foundation joined this effort a few years ago because our duty and responsibility is to invest in the people and institutions of Baltimore. We think there’s no institution more worthy of that type of investment right now than the Sun. … A wide cross-section of leaders from the philanthropic, civic and business community have stepped up and expressed interest in being capital partners. We hope to pull it off in the not-too-distant future.”
What would that mean to the Sun’s staff?
“Local owners have a much greater stake in making sure the paper is a vital institution,” Bowie says. “Out-of-town ownership, over the years, has shown that profits are more important than the journalism. As a journalist, I’ve seen, time and again, the company refusing to give raises to the majority of the staff. Anybody who is at the top of the scale hasn’t even been given a cost-of-living increase in seven years. Young reporters do get step increases for the first six years, but those have been hard for the company to justify. They want the union to get rid of those step increases so they can keep wages low. I also think there will be a much stronger sense of community if there’s local ownership in the paper.”
It’s All Journalism host Michael O’Connell talks to reporter Liz Bowie of the Washington-Baltimore News Guild and Matt Gallagher of the Goldseker Foundation to discuss the community-driven efforts to purchase The Baltimore Sun and turn it into a nonprofit organization.