During the early days of the pandemic, I started thinking about the state of local news in Maryland and the implications for how we are governed and the impact it has on local communities. When local news isn’t strong and credible, bad things happen in local communities. That concern was the genesis of what turned into The Baltimore Banner.
Before I go any further, I have to acknowledge someone who has had an incredible influence on The Banner. Ted Venetoulis was a champion of reinvigorating and sustaining local news through nonprofit ownership. True to Ted’s vision, our mission is to build a more sustainable model to provide essential and trustworthy journalism to the underserved communities that need it most. This is why we created The Venetoulis Institute for Local Journalism, the nonprofit owner of The Baltimore Banner.
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.
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 nonprofit, The Baltimore Banner will return its excess cash flow directly into the very content and products that serve our community.
This quest to create a better and sustainable business model for local news will require the support of many. But no one is more critical to the success of this venture than the community of readers that it serves. Ultimately, The Baltimore Banner, local journalism and maybe even democracy itself will only succeed when people value it enough to sustain it over time. We are here to serve all communities in Baltimore — that is our core mission. We will make mistakes along the way, but we need your support, your feedback and guidance to make us serve our mission better.
Stewart Bainum Jr. is a lifelong Maryland resident and the founder and chairman of The Baltimore Banner.