Today marks the one-year anniversary of The Baltimore Banner. To celebrate, we have dropped our paywall for today and tomorrow so anyone can access our stories, regardless of subscription status. It’s been an incredible year. The Baltimore Banner has established itself as a force in local journalism, with coverage that is unsurpassed. I am immensely proud of the work we have done and the positive impact we’ve had.

As a nonprofit independent news organization owned by The Venetoulis Institute for Local Journalism, our mission is to have a positive impact on Baltimore and the region. We exist for no other purpose. We are not here to make money like hedge fund owners of local news — we are here to tell the stories of our communities, to unite, to inspire and make a difference in the lives of our community through storytelling. This is the standard we hold ourselves to.

We’ve written countless stories that have had positive impacts. But beyond our stories, we have contributed directly to the economy of the city and the state. We employ 100 people downtown, all housed in a 15,000-square-foot office at the Inner Harbor. Many of these people moved to Baltimore, have bought homes, pay taxes, frequent local establishments, and have immersed themselves in city life. We also support local businesses. Our policy requires all services to be provided by local businesses if possible, and ideally minority-owned businesses.

It’s been gratifying to see the community respond. We are experiencing faster growth than any other local news startup in recent times. We have nearly 75,000 subscribers with paid access, and last month had more than a million unique visitors to our site. This number continues to grow as our stories connect with people in the community. Beyond just storytelling, we are meeting people through our many events, including Kitchen Undisclosed, Banner Revealed, the town hall on youth violence in partnership with WJZ-TV, and Wine on the Waterfront, which drew close to 1,000 attendees.

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A lot of our time this year was spent building our newsroom team, which now numbers 65 full-time staff. We hired locally and brought in talented reporters from all over the country. Most recently, we built out our sports team with a dozen reporters and editors. We’ll continue to add more journalists in the coming months with food, business, and regional coverage being a priority. I expect The Banner to have the largest newsroom in the state within the year.

Building a large newsroom is expensive. We rely on subscribers, advertisers and donors to support our work. While a paywall requiring a subscription to access our stories is a financial necessity, we are conscious of the fact that many people who would benefit from our coverage are unable to purchase subscriptions. To overcome this, we made free access available through the Enoch Pratt Free Library, and have partnered with Project Waves, a cable provider focused on reducing the digital divide by providing free access to all Banner content to their customers. The Banner will be available to hundreds of low-income households within weeks, and we are working on other ways to expand this initiative further.

As I sign off as CEO and publisher of The Banner and transition to the board, I want to thank everyone who helped us on this journey, including advisers, supporters, donors and the incredible team we have pulled together. The newsroom under Kimi Yoshino’s leadership is in good hands. I expect her to do great things.

I’d also like to leave you with one final thought: Quality journalism, as I noted earlier, is expensive. Subscriptions and advertising alone are insufficient to support the work we do. If you have the ability, please consider a donation of any amount to The Banner. I will be donating, and I hope you will, too.

Imtiaz Patel

CEO & Publisher