Not so long ago, the Baltimore Sun was the only major morning newspaper that actually arrived in the mornings on the Eastern Shore. Even as late as 1988, if you wanted the morning Washington Post you had to go to the downtown newsstand after 1pm to pick it up. If you wanted the New York Times, you needed to return the next day.
So it fell to the Sun to be the serious statewide newspaper of record for the Shore. And back in those days, they did that job exceptionally well.
The paper had an army of reporters that not only covered local news but also led the state in Annapolis coverage, and routinely competed with the Post and the Times for political stories and analysis.
It was also home for some of the best writers in the country who worked there at one point or another. Those included folks like Russell Baker, William Manchester, Gwen Ifill, Sujata Massey, Laura Lippman, Louis Rukeyser, and David Simon. All of whom benefited from the hands-off support of the A.S. Abell Company.
Fast forward to 2022, and the Baltimore Sun is now a ghost of what had been for its readers in the past. While it retains some charm, the decline in print advertising, the high demand for returns on investment, and the gutting of newsrooms has left Maryland’s legacy journal thin, deflated, and increasingly marginalized.
Stewart Bainum was one of those who witnessed this decline. That began when he became involved in state politics after growing up in Takoma Park, then followed later as the successful chairman of Choice Hotels. And in 2020, he and his brother decided to intervene is this sad situation and attempted to purchase the Sun from Tribune Publishing. That effort failed, but the story did not stop there.
Soon enough, Stewart would announce in October of 2021 that he would help seed a new newspaper for Baltimore. Through the creation of the Venetoulis Institute for Local Journalism, the Baltimore Banner would begin the following year with a budget of $15 million and plans for 50 journalists. This new nonprofit, all-digital publication is now scheduled to go public by the second quarter.
The arrival of the Banner this summer may set off one of the most stunning newspapers wars in recent memory as it takes on the Baltimore Sun for subscribers and battles for the hearts and minds of a community eager to have local news a priority again.
Recently, the Spy talked to Stewart (a part-time resident of Talbot County) via Zoom to understand more his motives and some of the challenges of starting a newspaper at a time when local news is an endangered species.