A few years earlier, in order to avoid a takeover by a hedge fund, staff members of The Baltimore Sun made a public appeal for a local entrepreneur to purchase their publication.
That request was recently realized: David D. Smith, a Maryland businessman, purchased the old newspaper and returned the 186-year-old paper to local hands for the first time in nearly 40 years.
But Mr Smith may not have been what The Sun journalists were expecting. According to interviews with current and former employees of the newspaper, Mr. Smith’s purchase has already caused concern among many inside and outside the newsroom, who fear he may bring his political interests to bear on the organization once proud. would impose as a final coda to the newspaper. Has been facing decline for a long time.
Mr. Smith is executive chairman of the conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group, one of the nation’s largest local television station operators with nearly 200 stations, including Fox45 in Baltimore. Sinclair is the son of former President Donald J. Trump has been a trusted ally; Mr Smith reportedly told “We are here to deliver your message,” Mr. Trump said in 2016. The company needed its stations in 2018 film promo Echoing some of Mr Trump’s attacks on the news media.
Mr. Smith has regularly supported conservative causes. According to tax records, his family foundation has given more than $500,000 in recent years to Project Veritas, a right-wing group that has tried to secretly record political opponents and journalists.
The Sun’s new owner did nothing to address internal concerns during a three-hour meeting with staff members on Tuesday. According to two people at the meeting, Mr. Smith told the newsroom that he had read the newspaper only a few times in recent months and had not read it at all in the past 40 years. He urged them to increase profits and said he wanted are broadcast to simulcast the local Sinclair station, Fox45. He also said in the meeting that he wanted a newspaper to cover corruption. (The Sun won a Pulitzer Prize in 2020 that’s all I’m doing,
John E. McIntyre, editor of The Sun for 34 years, said of Mr. Smith’s ownership, “I think it would mean disaster.” Mr. McIntyre took a buyout in 2021 and now does occasional freelance work for a new crosstown rival, The Baltimore Banner.
“I hope he will follow through on what he said, turning the Baltimore Sun into the same thing that his Fox45 TV station is: a megaphone for right-wing disinformation and contempt for the city of Baltimore,” Mr. McIntyre added.
The Sun, Maryland’s largest newspaper, has struggled in recent years with declining advertising revenue and print circulation, the same adverse conditions affecting nearly all newspapers. The newspaper at one time had about 500 journalists and several foreign bureaus. Now, The Sun and its sister newspapers employ about 150 people, including people on the business side.
In 2021, Alden Global Capital, an investment firm with plans to buy local newspapers before reducing costs, purchased The Sun. Newspaper staff and others in the community tried to stop Alden’s purchase. In February 2021, Maryland hotel magnate and lifelong Democrat Stewart Bainum Jr. struck a deal to purchase The Sun and its two sister papers for $65 million, with a plan to run them through a non-profit organization.
But that deal fell apart, and Mr. Bainum started a local rival news organization, The Baltimore Banner, which hired some of The Sun’s best reporters and nearly doubled its newsroom to 70 in less than two years. , almost the same size as the Sun. Banner informed of Regarding the staff meeting with Mr. Smith earlier this week.
Mr Smith, along with his partner, Armstrong Williams, a conservative commentator, bought The Sun and several other newspapers from Alden on January 12. The new owners stated that they had used personal funds independent of Sinclair. The price of the deal was not disclosed, but Mr. Smith told the newsroom at the meeting that the deal was in the “nine figures,” or at least $100 million.
Guy Gilmore, chief operating officer of Alden MediaNews Group, said in a statement: “We are always open to discussions about local ownership and we are pleased that our iconic newspaper operations and technology platform will continue to provide services for The Baltimore Sun “
Mr. Smith declined to comment for this article through a representative. he told The Sun an interview Monday that he had purchased the newspaper because “serving the public interest is our sole responsibility” and that he felt the newspaper could be “extremely profitable.”
His business partner, Mr. Williams, said in a phone interview Friday that employees had misinterpreted Mr. Smith’s comments at a staff meeting.
“What matters is what we do – that’s how we will be judged – not what someone says in the first meeting, but what we do day in and day out in that newsroom,” Mr Williams said.
He added: “Why would we spend so much money to buy it only to destroy it? It doesn’t make any sense.”
Mr. Williams owns a media company affiliated with Sinclair, and has had a long career as a radio and television show host and columnist. In 2005, Mr. Williams admitted that he was paid $240,000 by the administration of George W. Bush to promote the government’s “No Child Left Behind” law in his column and elsewhere.
Mr Williams said that personal politics would “absolutely not” affect The Sun’s journalism, and that he wanted rigorous and factual reporting. “More than anything, we need balance in news coverage,” he said.
Mr Williams said The Sun’s publisher and editor-in-chief, Triff Alatzas, would remain in those roles.
The Baltimore Sun Guild, which represents journalists at the newspaper, said in a statement After the staff meeting: “The editorial direction he described – focused on clicks rather than journalistic value – concerned many of our members, as did his attitude toward vulnerable communities in the city we love.”
Two employees, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Sun reporters had neither heard from nor seen Mr Smith since the meeting. People said that there was no immediate change in their daily work.
The sun continues to overshadow its new owner. an article published Reports on Wednesday said Mr. Smith contributed $100,000 to a PAC supporting Sheila Dixon, a Democrat and former mayor of Baltimore, who is challenging the city’s current mayor. thursday newspaper published An article on Mr. Smith’s involvement in financing a ballot question petition seeking to halve Baltimore’s City Council.
Mr. Bainum said in an interview Friday that the Baltimore banner has seen a big increase in new subscriptions since the sale of The Sun was announced.
“We launched the banner 19 months ago to bring more high-quality journalism to Baltimore and Maryland,” he said. “If this sale of The Sun achieves even more than that, it is certainly going to be a boost to the area. The more local news, the better.”
Outside critics have been pessimistic about The Sun’s new ownership. The Guardian’s media columnist, Margaret Sullivan, wrote: “One often hears the desire for more local ownership because national vulture-capital chains have done so much damage. But as the situation in Baltimore shows, local ownership can be just as bad.”
David Simon, creator of the TV show “The Wire” and former Sun reporter, said in a Thread On the social media platform
Media executive and film producer Josh Tyrangiel, who is on the board of The Baltimore Banner, said of Mr. Smith in an interview: “He is the Grim Reaper. And because he clearly knows nothing about journalism, he would be a reckless Grim Reaper.
He said, “The sun is in for a miserable, undignified death.”