Local businessman David Smith has purchased The Baltimore Sun, the city’s oldest newspaper, from Alden Global Capital, putting an institution that has been reporting on the state for more than a century back into the hands of local owners for the first time since 1986.

The purchase was announced in a story in The Baltimore Sun Monday.

Smith, the executive chairman of media company Sinclair Inc., personally purchased The Baltimore Sun Media Group, which includes The Sun and its affiliated newspapers, including The Capital and Maryland Gazette newspapers in Annapolis, the Carroll County Times, the Howard County Times and the Towson Times, from Alden, an investment firm and former hedge fund known for draconian cost-cutting measures. Sinclair, based in Hunt Valley, owns more than 200 television stations, including Fox 45.

The Sun said Smith intends to invest in the paper, increasing coverage of local communities and investing in investigative work.

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For more than a decade, local foundations and individuals, have attempted to get the paper, founded by A.S. Abell in 1837, back into local hands since it had been sold by the Abell family to Times Mirror in the 1980s, but were never able to make a deal with the Tribune Publishing Company to sell.

Alden purchased all of the Tribune newspapers in May 2021 in a $633 million deal. Before that purchase went through, Montgomery County businessman Stewart Bainum Jr. had a deal to purchase The Sun from Alden, but it fell apart. In the final months before the sale, he attempted and failed to find a partner to buy Tribune to get The Sun. When he lost out to Alden, he decided to launch The Baltimore Banner.

Bainum welcomed Smith’s investment in local journalism. “The more the new owners invest in The Sun the better because The Sun has been shrinking,” he said. “We launched The Banner to bring more quality journalism to the state and to Baltimore. If this sale to Mr. Smith achieves more of that, it will be a true boost to the region,” added the founder and chair of the Venetoulis Institute for Local Journalism, the nonprofit that operates The Banner.

The purchase will make Baltimore unusual. With newspaper ownership consolidating across the nation, few cities have two large, competitive, locally owned news organizations with more than 75 journalists each.

Smith was not available for comment Monday. In an interview with The Sun, Smith said he had been interested in buying the media group two years ago. The purchase amount is undisclosed, and a representative of Smith’s declined to give any details surrounding the acquisition. He does not have to do so as a private entity.

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However, Smith said in The Sun story that he intends to continue service agreements with Alden, that keep Tribune operating some backroom functions, including design and human resources. Eventually, the newspapers would operate independently. Smith did not say how much he will pay for those service agreements.

In response to a request for comment on the sale, Alden’s Media News Group sent an unsigned email that contained only a link to The Baltimore Sun’s article detailing the sale.

“It is the first time in 38 years that The Sun has been under local ownership,” Publisher Trif Alatzas said in the announcement to staff. Alatzas did not respond to a request for comment.

Sinclair, which has been known for its conservative slant, will not be part of the operations of The Sun because Smith has purchased the paper separately from his television business, however, reaction from across the region indicated that at least some politicians would welcome a more conservative focus.

“I really HOPE that more balanced news will be available in Maryland with this transaction,” said Gordana Schifanelli, a Republican who ran for lieutenant governor two years ago, said on X, formerly Twitter.

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And state Del. Kathy Szliga, a Republican representing Baltimore County, said on X, “A late Christmas present for common sense people in Maryland looking for honest and fair reporting. Embrace a new day Baltimore!”

On the other side, Dayvon Love, director of public policy for Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle said he was concerned that “they will be able to amplify the viability of their conservative right wing agenda because of them purchasing The Sun and their ability to drive the media market, the discourse.”

He said he was concerned the purchase would give Smith a platform to “demonize” reforms in juvenile justice and community-based violence prevention efforts, like the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement.

Staff at the newspaper were notified of the sale only moments before The Sun published a story on Monday. Smith is expected to meet with staff Tuesday to “start discussions around future vision.”

“While this news came as a surprise, we are eager to learn more in the days to come,” said Christine Condon, a Sun reporter and unit chair of one of the newspaper’s unions. “The Sun has a proud history of journalism that holds the powerful accountable, and we would expect any new owner to help us preserve those values.”

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Smith is no stranger to Baltimore’s political scene. He and his family frequently donate to candidates, often giving the maximum $6,000 individual donation. He personally tried to recruit potential challengers to Mayor Brandon Scott and last year unsuccessfully courted Comptroller Bill Henry to run for mayor.

A local political group that put a successful charter amendment to set term limits for Baltimore elected officials on 2022 ballots was funded nearly entirely by more than $500,000 from Smith. The group unsuccessfully advocated for a ballot measure to recall elected officials. Last year, the People for Elected Accountability & Civic Engagement began pursuing a ballot measure that would reduce the size of the City Council from 14 districts to eight.

Smith has given generously over the years to conservative and local causes through his David D. Smith Family Foundation. Tax forms obtained by The Banner show that since 2015 he has given $581,000 to Young Americans for Liberty, $536,000 to Project Veritas, $150,000 to Turning Point USA, and $121,000 to Moms for Liberty.

He’s also given $413,000 to the GBMC Foundation, $208,200 to the Baltimore Humane Society, $205,000 to the House of Ruth Maryland, and $145,900 to the Living Classrooms Foundation.

In the interview with The Sun, Smith said he only began regularly reading the newspaper a few months ago. “The passage of time has driven me to become more focused on it, and it just seemed like the right time, so I made the deal,” said Smith.

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Smith told The Sun that he will be joined in the newspaper venture by one partner, with an undisclosed share of ownership: Armstrong Williams, a well-known conservative political commentator who hosts a nationally syndicated television show on Sinclair network affiliates.

Last summer, as former mayor Sheila Dixon appeared on Fox45 to tease another run for mayor against incumbent Brandon Scott, she sat alongside Williams in an hour-long segment.

The conservative commentator couched most of his questions with praise for Dixon and criticism of current elected officials.

In an interview with The Baltimore Banner after the July segment aired, the former mayor said that Armstrong had been supportive of her campaign in the past. “You want to recruit anybody who wasn’t supportive of you or who didn’t know you or who had a false perception of you,” Dixon said at the time, adding that she would speak with any news outlet that approached her.

Williams has long been a conservative voice in politics. On social media, he has accused Georgia officials prosecuting Donald Trump of corruption, and described protestors as “terrorists.”

He was an unofficial advisor for Ben Carson and as a columnist was once dropped from syndication because he was taking payments to promote “No Child Left Behind” from the Department of Education under former president George W. Bush. According to the New York Times, Williams paid for the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ wedding reception.

Williams did not respond to an email or social media messages requesting comment.

Brian Stelter, a media critic and Maryland native, said that local ownership of The Baltimore Sun should be welcomed, “but Sun employees and subscribers are right to question the motivations of the new owners.” Stelter pointed to a 2018 interview in which Williams said a media owner’s views should not spill into the newsroom.

”Now he [Williams] will be held to that standard by Sun employees and readers,” Stelter said.

David Zurawik, who worked as The Sun’s media critic for decades, saw the sale as “a sad and politically dangerous development not just for Baltimore media but for the city.”

“As if being owned by Alden wasn’t enough of an insult to what was once a great Baltimore journalistic institution, now comes an even deeper moment of degradation with David Smith, of the family that owns the right-wing Sinclair station group, buying the newspaper,” he said.

Jayne Miller, a former investigative reporter for WBAL who retired in 2022 after 40 years at the station said, “Everything about our country and democracy depends on a free and fair press. Period.”

Miller said Baltimore is fortunate to have a newer publication in The Baltimore Banner that just came online and one with a long tradition of solid journalism. “It’s unfortunate that the Sun’s tradition may now take a different path.”

Justin Fenton and Giacomo Bologna contributed to this report.

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