Good morning, Baltimore!
With these three words, The Baltimore Banner turned on the lights in the digital space it inhabits a year ago this week. A new newspaper in an old newspaper town, Kimi Yoshino, The Banner’s editor in chief, said in an open letter to readers that its mission was “to be an indispensable resource that will uplift and strengthen our community.”
During the past 12 months, The Banner has tried mightily to do just that.
Sometimes it succeeded. At other times it looked a lot like the city’s traditional news organizations — which is to say it hasn’t always looked like something new and different in its first year. Of course, that’s to be expected. Most of its reporters and editors came from — and honed their journalism in — the old-school newsrooms that The Banner is trying not to duplicate.
Given more time, and resolve, I think that will change.
For now, there is still much to find encouraging about The Banner’s new journalism. As I write this column, the online newspaper’s lead story is about Baltimore’s dwindling number of gay bars, an existential crisis for the social life of people who are too often attacked, verbally and physically, in public spaces. The story followed by a few days an article that gave voice to 18 members of the area’s LGBTQ community.
The Banner’s coverage of Maryland’s gay community — estimated to number 151,000 people — has been consistently strong at a time when there is increasing pressure from right-wingers to treat gay people as lepers.
The coverage of youth violence in Baltimore also has been noteworthy. The televised town hall meeting last month that it co-sponsored at the University of Baltimore moved The Banner from the press box to the playing field of one of the city’s most intractable problems.
Remarkably, its coverage of this issue has featured reporting that provided perspectives from and about the young people who get caught up in this deadly carnage, which is far from drive-by journalism.
The Banner sent reporters into violence-plagued neighborhoods, onto the campuses of public schools with simmering youth violence issues and to a juvenile detention facility in Western Maryland to probe the soft underbelly of this crisis. This kind of reporting is evidence of a long-term commitment to a search for solutions to the problem of youth violence, not just headlines.
Likewise, I think The Banner’s focus on the housing problems of poor and disadvantaged people in Baltimore has been penetrating — and consistently good.
But maybe The Banner’s best public service reporting during the past year has come in its coverage of the sex abuse scandal within the Archdiocese of Baltimore. The newspaper’s tenacity in seeking a full disclosure of the church leaders who are accused of sexually abusing children during the past 80 years — or aiding in the cover-up of these crimes — has given the alleged victims the closure they sought.
Upon their creation, every newspaper makes grand pronouncements about its raison d’etre.
Back in 1827, the editors of Freedom’s Journal, this nation’s first Black newspaper, explained the need for their publication this way: “We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us.” Their front-page editorial assured its Black readers that “whatever concerns us as a people, will ever find a ready admission into the FREEDOM’S JOURNAL interwoven with all of the principal news of the day.”
When USA Today, which brashly called itself “The Nation’s Newspaper,” published its first issue on Sept. 15, 1982, Al Neuharth, the chairman and president of Gannett, its parent company, offered a succinct explanation of the newspaper’s purpose.
The newspaper, he wrote in a box at the bottom of the front page, would be “enlightening and entertaining to the nation’s readers, informative and impelling to the nation’s leaders, challenging and competitive to the nation’s journalists, and refreshing and rewarding to the nation’s advertisers.”
The Banner’s was more focused in the commitment it made to readers.
Yoshino, the executive editor, closed her letter to readers on the newspaper’s first day of operation with these words: “Our journalism will provide insight, depth, analysis and solutions. … We’ll celebrate the rich culture and art in this region and provide useful information that helps you decide how to spend your time and money. And we’ll find interesting tales that you’ll want to talk about with family and friends.”
In that effort, I think The Banner is off to a good start.
DeWayne Wickham is the public editor for The Baltimore Banner.