For E&P’s March issue, I had the pleasure of speaking with Lisa Snowden The Baltimore Beat’s editor. Last summer, Baltimore Beat returned to the local news scene after a publishing pause. They had a somewhat quiet relaunch in late summer, when other Baltimore news outlets were basking in national attention over Baltimore’s new “newspaper wars”—pitting the new Baltimore Banner against the city’s legacy paper, the Baltimore Sun.
Snowden didn’t have much time to pay attention to that media frenzy. The veteran Baltimore journalist was busy relaunching the Beat as a nonprofit local news title for Baltimore’s Black community—61.6% of the city’s population, per the U.S. Census. It is intentionally a print title (w/ a companion site) that’s strategically distributed around the city, and it’s free.
The Baltimore Beat’s revenue model relies on philanthropy and the sustained support of the community. Snowden plans to earn that support by being a practical, accessible, go-to resource for the public.
As 2022 comes to a close, my social feeds have been heavy with news of layoffs across media and tech worlds.
It’s the loss of local news that feels most ominous. We’ll start the new year with fewer journalists in newsrooms, fewer columnists to stoke our minds, fewer visual journalists to show us new perspectives, fewer production, sales, audience and administrative pros to ensure that the news reaches subscribers and the public.
The threads that gut me most chronicle all the stories of little to great importance that journalists produced over time in service to employers and the community. There are the investigative pieces, expensive and sometimes tedious to produce; stories holding the powerful and elected to account; stories about the economy, housing, the food chain, immigration, public policy, foreign policy, crime, war, the heavy stuff.
There are endearing examples of human interest stories about the many inspiring people who contribute to our communities. There are the stories about events, art, food and local traditions that help us to feel connected to one another, to have the sense and security of a community around us.
Who will tell these stories, elevate these voices, speak these revelations when newsrooms are scuttled?
I’ve had the pleasure of another year reporting on the state of news for Editor & Publisher magazine, my 12th year with the title. It’s been a humbling, troubling, yet exhilarating year in news. Here are just a few of the stories I’ve had the privilege to tell:
My final E&P dispatch of the year is bittersweet, like the holidays or the end of a year. We wanted to tell the stories of journalists who’ve worked a newsroom, a sound booth or a TV studio on one of the major year-end holidays. We wanted to know about festivities, food (because you know that’s important to us) and newsroom traditions, but also about the memorable events reported on those holidays — a reminder that the public’s need to know never takes a holiday.
I was so grateful for all the reporters, editors, photographers, on-air hosts, everyone who shared their memories with me. Throughout those conversations ran two themes — what a privilege it is to do this job, and how so many journalists lost their jobs this year, how so many have had to (reluctantly or enthusiastically) leave the profession.
I’d like to extend a special thanks to E&P Columnist and Cartoonist Rob Tornoe, who illustrated the cover and perfectly captured the experience of chasing a lead while the newsroom is quiet and the world around you celebrates.
One recipient, Block Club Chicago, hopes to “supercharge” operations with the funding
WATCH: E&P Reports welcomes Shamus Toomey and Stephanie Lulay of Block Club Chicago, and the American Journalism Project’s Anna Nirmala and Sarabeth Berman to talk about venture philanthropy and nonprofit local news:
With new local owners, former Gannett-owned newspapers benefit from reinvestment
By Gretchen A. Peck
Gannett remains at the top of the leaderboard for newspaper ownership. It publishes over 1,000 weekly titles and more than 100 dailies, amassed over the years through independent acquisitions and headlining mergers. But the company turned heads in the newspaper world when it recently began selling off some of those newspapers, mostly small-market and community titles that local owners were eager to buy.
The shadow of hedge fund and corporate ownership leaves newsrooms in fear they’ll be picked clean
By Gretchen A. Peck
This summer, Alden Global Capital acquired Tribune Publishing and its titles, from small community newspapers to major metro titles like its flagship, The Chicago Tribune, and The Baltimore Sun. It wasn’t the first newspaper acquisition for this hedge fund firm, nor is it the only firm of its kind eyeing the nation’s newspapers. But this acquisition was profound, making Alden Global Capital the owner, in effect, of more than 200 newspapers across the land. It was a deal rife with drama, as the Tribune newsrooms publicly pleaded for some other savior. In the end, no eccentric billionaire philanthropist descended on the scene to save them. Instead, the newsrooms steeled themselves for the future.
Relationships with sources are more scrutinized and more complicated than ever
By Gretchen A. Peck
Access journalism. Follow threads about the press or conversations among journalists and it’s bound to come up in discussion. Fundamentally, access journalism occurs when reporters value landing a source more than the information gleaned from that source.
But what do readers, viewers, or other members of the public mean when they use the term as criticism? Is it simply expedient and pithy, just a new way to disparage the press?
More importantly, what does the practice or appearance of access journalism mean to the trust audiences and the public place in their news sources? And how should we prepare new journalists coming into the field for navigating the access minefield?
Audio is a platform unlike any other, in that it closes the distance—physically and cognitively—between the listener and host and guests. In conversations with people who podcast, you’ll hear the word “intimate” used a lot to describe the relationship between listener and the voices emanating from their earbuds. It’s as if there’s no one else in the equation, as if you’re being told a story just for you.
For news organizations increasingly reliant on audience more than advertising, audio is proving to be a platform that makes those connections, builds trust and familiarity, and solidifies those relationships.
With a federal antitrust suit against Google and Facebook, a single newspaper publisher seeks to level the playing field
By Gretchen A. Peck
Tech giants Google and Facebook aren’t strangers to antitrust litigation and Congressional scrutiny, but in a first-of-its-kind case, the two companies have been named as defendants in a federal antitrust lawsuit filed by a newspaper publisher.
The plaintiff, HD Media Co., LLC, is the West Virginia-based publisher of seven titles, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Charleston Gazette-Mail and the Herald-Dispatch, a historically significant newspaper that dates back to 1871.
On Jan. 29, the publisher filed its lawsuit in the Southern District of West Virginia. To small community and regional newspaper publishers across the nation, the action may seem like David squaring off against a two-headed Goliath.
This headline is not true, and yet, it was in this pre-Middle School era of my life when I first began to fully “understand the value of a dollar.”
I find that’s a popular phrase passed down through generations, an invaluable life lesson or a rite of passage. For two sixth-grade classes in the 1970s, their introduction to commerce and capitalism began that week.
That was the year that the number of students had outgrown the school, and some lucky contractor got the local school system bid for providing pop-up classrooms made out of stitched-together double-wide trailers. Two sixth-grade classes shared the one we’d been sentenced to, with a sliding partition between the two groups, each with its own teacher.
The partition was an insufficient barrier that mostly rendered us distracted by what was happening with the kids on the other side. When they laughed, our heads swiveled. When we acted up, they’d go silent and giggle as they listened to our punishment being levied. One teacher would have to raise her voice to keep the attention of her class whenever the sounds of the other teacher seemed more interesting.
And vice versa, and so it went.
Imagine the delight in our little hearts when one day the partition was folded in on itself, the two classrooms of kids facing off at last. The once competitive teachers joined forces and announced that we were going to learn about “the value of money.” They went on to explain that for a period of one week, there would be no traditional classroom lessons and that our trailer would be transformed into a microcosmic town.
Each of us had a role to play in the town. They asked for a show of hands when assigning roles like bankers, retailers, landlords, food purveyors, even insurance carriers.
I was the only one who wanted to run the town’s newspaper.
The town also needed governance and law, and so a show of hands indicated which of my classmates aspired to political life – managing their day-to-day duties while also running for a handful of offices, including mayor and sheriff.
We spent a day or two planning and building the town. Creative cardboard cutouts became our storefronts. Logos were designed, and signs went up over our storefronts. My classmates got right to work. The banker “handprinted” money and distributed a precisely equal amount of cash to each of the town’s residents, so everyone had a level playing field – a comparatively endearing socialist start to what would end in survival-of-the-fittest capitalistic carnage.
The most popular business, by far, was the town baker, who sold decadent treats to a classroom of kids given the freedom to make their own nutritional and expenditure decisions.
We didn’t speak of food allergies back then.
I got right to work wearing all the hats at the newspaper – a lot like things are today.
I reported and designed the layout. I “printed” the paper on the front office’s mimeograph. Printing is a big cost for actual newspapers, but I’d managed to get the paper and “press” for free. This would be seen as an ethical breach for actual newspapers.
I had to hock the paper, selling single copies to passersby. I sold advertising and wrote ad copy. I had to distribute the paper when it was hot off the press.
And though everyone wanted to read the paper – mostly to see if they were in it – few wanted to buy the paper. It was hard to compete with Mom-baked brownies.
I spent the week walking around the perimeter of the trailer, interviewing my classmates about the health of their businesses or who they liked in the pending election. I wrote trends pieces about how the town’s residents thought the rent was too damned high and how they wanted to be able to spend more of their money on luxury items, like those chocolately brownies. I vaguely remember writing an expose on the insurance carrier in town, who I saw as a huckster selling vapor.
“People give you money, but what do they really get in return,” I grilled him like I was Woodward or Bernstein.
One by one, the small businesses fell, exiling their owners from town, to a corner of the trailer-classroom to watch an episode of “Free to be You and Me” or to throw a sixth-grade temper tantrum, perhaps.
Naturally, the bank endured; it thrived off of the interest. The insurance carrier – who had minimal overhead costs and a contained, safe environment that put odds in his favor – stayed afloat. The baker had fistfuls of colorful cash by week’s end. And the newspaper endured, though I, too, was pretty busted. By the time I’d covered my own costs – rent, insurance, crayons – I didn’t have enough currency for much else.
I’d spent days coveting my classmates’ disposable income and how they frivolously, happily spent it on baked goods and insurance policies.
Somehow, I’d managed to get the news out, but it wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t lucrative.
I spoke with digital news organizations — and some major metro newspapers, including those that have been so-called “hot zones” for COVID-19 — about how the pandemic has influenced, impeded, affirmed, or transformed content, operations, staffing, revenue, and philosophies.
From the July/August issue of Editor & Publisher magazine: