The Runback: Bainum's Opportunity

The Sun's new owner has a tremendous opportunity to remake the paper. If he takes it.

Welcome to another week of The Runback. Have you been enjoying The Duckpin? Do you have comments or suggestions? Do you want to write for us? Let me know at theduckpin@gmail.com. And please be sure to follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and YouTube. Thanks in advance.

Podcast Episode #21

This week on The Duckpin Podcast we talked with Harford County Executive Barry Glassman about COVID, snow removal, and his political future, including his potential primary challenge against Congressman Andy Harris.

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The Monday Though

A lot has changed in the saga of The Baltimore Sun since I last penned a Monday thought.

On Sunday, I had just shared my investigative story about how a Democratic operative allied with the Save Our Sun effort was encouraging discussion among Democrats about seizing The Sun’s properties by eminent domain.

Two days later, we learned that Alden Capital indeed intended to sell The Baltimore Sun Media Group to a non-profit. Just not the one necessarily preferred by Democratic insiders.

I don’t think the timing of that second announcement is coincidental given how quickly the announcement was made after the eminent domain story broke.

Bainum had been working on this purchase for a while. Here’s a timeline of what we know about Bainum and the $65 million purchase he is making in the name of his new Sunlight for All Institute:

  • November 10th: Bainum discussed the newspaper business with Jim Freidlich, CEO of the non-profit that owns the Philadelphia Inquirer (per New York Times)

  • December 31st: Bainum has a “brief conversation” with Alden Capital about purchasing “certain assets” of Tribune Publishing (per Chicago Tribune and SEC filings)

  • January 26th: Sunlight for All Institute established as non-profit Delaware corporation;

  • February 16th: Purchase agreement publicly announced.

Bainum’s purchase of The Sun means that the paper will be in local hands. This is obviously a fantastic thing and a whole lot better than being owned by an out-of-town venture capitalist.

But there are some concerns as well. Some of these are the same concerns that I raised about the Save Our Sun effort.

We cannot adequately discuss concerns without discussing Bainum’s politics. No, Bainum is not currently as politically involved as Damian O’Doherty, Matt Gallagher, and others involved in the Save Our Sun effort. But Bainum is a former politician; he served one term in the House of Delegates, one term in the State Senate, ran for Congress, and almost ran for Governor. He donated $3 million last year to various efforts to elect Joe Biden. He is still listed as a trustee of the Maryland Democratic Party (along with, incidentally, Damian O’Doherty).

So yes, there are still some concerns of potential bias at play, even with the establishment of a non-profit.

There are easy ways however, for Bainum to overcome this potential perception.

The first would be to ensure that the leadership of the Sunlight for All Institute includes leaders from several political perspectives. Democrats, Republicans, independents, and others should get the opportunity to have a seat at the table.

The second would be to establish a strict firewall between the newsroom and the operations of the paper. Papers ostensibly still have these firewalls, but we all know better.

The third would be to ensure diversity of opinion on the editorial page. Despite being the most widely read paper in Maryland, The Sun has not had a consistent, ideologically conservative, and locally-based opinion writer since forcing me and my Red Maryland colleagues out in 2014. This means that a large plurality of Marylanders have not had a voice that speaks to them in the editorial page of the paper for nearly seven years.

On top of that, I have long documented that the Editorial Board of The Sun has a pronounced left-wing, anti-conservative bias. They have long been nothing but left-wing, ivory tower apologists completely disconnected from the city they cover and the readers they serve.

In a letter I sent to Mr. Bainum on February 17th, I wrote:

Furthermore, the editorial board has long lacked ideological balance. Members of the editorial board and editorial staff have for years been representative of only one viewpoint. Even the addition of one conservative would ensure that another voice is in the room during the important discussions on the paper’s editorial positioning.

I hope that by creating a non-profit, you will help set the course for the much-needed ideological balance that has long been missing on the pages of The Baltimore Sun. Such ideological balance is not only what’s best for the business of operating a news outlet in these economically challenging times, but will be a refreshing change in the media landscape at a time where far too many people have retreated to their ideological bubbles.

Local ownership for The Sun and its local papers is a good thing. But just as importantly, this is an opportunity for the paper to reposition itself as both an invaluable newsgathering and reporter tool but also establish itself as a forum for two-way discussion about ideas and the challenges our area faces.

Stewart Bainum and his new Institute have the opportunity to not just Save The Sun, but fix it. Let’s hope he makes the most out of it because these opportunities don’t come very often.