My very first job, as a fresh-faced 14-year-old, was for The Baltimore Sun.

Notice that I said “for” and not “at.” In my several months of employment, I never made it inside the then-Calvert Street newsroom. My task was not the delivery of stories as a writer but the literal delivery of the newspaper in which those stories appeared. Every morning, I got up before the sun to distribute The Sun as a papergirl, lugging heavy bundles of papers into my mom’s car so she could drive my sister and me around Northwood in the dark.

We trundled up steps and hills to toss each precious periodical onto a porch or doorstep, never missing a day even through the winds and rain of Hurricane Gloria. (And, to that one lady who said she never got her paper that day and refused to pay for it, I’m still mad about it.) If there were extra copies, I would sit in the back seat and carefully remove one from the protective plastic bag and dream about the day when my byline would be on one of those pages that left happy ink stains on my palms.

That day never came. It never will. For one, I now write for The Baltimore Banner, one of the Sun’s many competitors, so I don’t need to work there to tell my city’s story. Also, last week’s announcement of the 187-year-old’s paper’s sale to Sinclair Chairman David Smith and his apparent disrespect for the publication and its journalists made me fear the story that Smith’s version of the Sun will tell.

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Being a journalist in 2024, particularly one who has spent 99% of her career in newsrooms, can feel like Marty McFly — and not the part when he gets credit for inventing rock and roll. It’s the part where I’m trapped in a shifting timeline between the past and an uncertain present that threatens the future. I’m watching the implosion of my dream industry — which was never perfect or equitable, even in the good days — while people, including those who love me, talk about its death matter-of-factly to my face like they’re discussing which pasta special to order at dinner.

While publications like The Banner, Baltimore Beat, Baltimore Brew and the Afro-American try to stave off that bleak future and keep telling our stories, the new owner of the town’s oldest paper of record doesn’t seem to have much regard for the community in which he works. He’s telling his employees he never reads them, doesn’t know who they are and characterizes their work as “dribble.” He’s now in charge of their words, and he doesn’t even use the word “drivel” right. Guess it’s nice to be rich.

My journalism journey never took me inside the newsroom, except to sometimes visit friends fortunate enough to get hired there. But the Sun was my first journalism school. I learned how to write from the classroom it provided me, sitting in that car or on the landing in our home, grabbing it early before my dad got up.

I was a finalist for a wonderful scholarship available when I was younger that provided an internship, a spot at what’s now the Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland and a job at the Sun after graduation. I got into the school but not the scholarship. I applied a few times over the years but nothing ever came of it, so I thrived elsewhere. I never worked there, but I still had love for the Sun.

However, the paper’s new owner seems to have so little regard for it that I am terrified for the paper’s future and the people who produce it. I have gone back and forth this week about whether to cancel my digital subscription. If its coverage goes ideologically down the road of Sinclair’s other outlets, I don’t want to support that. I imagine there are many who will.

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But I always want to support fellow journalists fighting the good fight. I wanted to work at the Sun when I returned to the city in 2020, but it didn’t work out. For those who are still there, I feel a loyalty and an impulse not to give up on them. Not just yet.

I have no illusions that The Banner is some perfect publication deigned by God to be the only savior of Baltimore journalism. There are so many of us out there trying to make this work, and the fact that anyone is making a living writing in these difficult times is a miracle in itself. Between the ones already writing our obituary and the ones gleefully shoveling dirt on us and trying to banana peel us into our graves, it’s hard out here.

But still we trod. Still we write. Ask questions. Get answers whether they’re comfortable or not. Speak truth to power, even as that power insists to the people we write for that we are their enemy. We are not. At our best, Baltimore’s reporters are trying to deliver the news for our neighbors as steadfastly as my sister and I used to deliver the Sun through the worst conditions.

That’s our job. We’re used to the rain. And I’m gonna strap on my waders and my umbrella, and keep delivering. I hope we all can.

Leslie Gray Streeter is a columnist excited about telling Baltimore stories — about us and the things that we care about, that touch us, that tickle us and that make us tick, from parenting to pop... 

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