The slow setting of the Baltimore Sun

The slow setting of the Baltimore Sun

The Sun's headquarters in Port Covington (Marylandstater/Creative Commons)

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As of today, the Baltimore Sun is now being printed in Wilmington, Del. One hundred skilled workers probably making good money will be laid off. I certainly hope, as a large layoff, they will get 60-days notice, as provided in a federal law signed by that good ex-president of the Screen Actors Guild, Ronald Reagan, whose birthday is Sunday. That’s what we got when the Baltimore Examiner daily folded 13 years ago.

I’m an old newspaper guy, starting with helping Steve Baas deliver the Philadelphia Bulletin back in the early 1960s. I still get the Sun and The Washington Post in my driveway, except when the Sun doesn’t arrive or comes late, which happens much more often with the Sun than the Post.

Now my ever-thinning print edition of the Sun will travel 90 plus miles to get to me, rather than 17 miles. I can’t imagine this will improve delivery.

Not everything at the Sun is being cut. My subscription to the Sun just went up a notch. It now costs slightly more than the Post. Talk about paying more for less. Yet if I were a new digital subscriber, I could get the online Sun for a 99 cents a month, at least to start, and read the same stories often a day or two before they appear in print.

For the past 47 years, I would always start the day reading the Sun – if it arrived on time. If I started with the Post, I would never get around to reading the Sun, even though the Post then and now has far less local coverage.

The Sun staff has been going through a thousand cuts for this entire 21st century. The Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers that gave me a comfortable living for 21 years is now a mere ghost of its former self as part of the Baltimore Sun Media Group. Offices are long closed. The staff is inexperienced and just passing through. The editors cover multiple communities where they’ve never lived.

Soon but not soon enough Stewart Bainum’s Baltimore Banner will launch its online daily. They’ve already poached three Sun staffers and there are sure to be more to follow.

It pains me to write this. I probably shouldn’t be criticizing the hedge fund owners of Tribune and the Sun, since I happen to be this year’s president of the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association, which includes all the dailies and most of the weeklies in the region. (The association wouldn’t let online news sites like Maryland Reporter join 10 years ago.)

Once the Sun presses are gone from Port Covington, there is little reason to hold onto such a big building with a mostly empty parking lot. It seems more a question of when not if the owners will sell the building and its land for the glitzy new development going up next door – much as they did the old Sun buildings on Calvert Street.

How long will it be printed seven days a week? Or five or three? Or not at all?

And then I’ll be left reading the Post. And the Banner and Baltimore Fishbowl and Maryland Matters. I’ll just have to bring my laptop or my iPad to the breakfast table. Or maybe I’ll just use my iPhone as long as my eyesight holds out.

This will be another great loss for a once great city that still has great institutions like Johns Hopkins, the University of Maryland professional schools, the Ravens (most weeks) and the Baltimore Symphony, which was in great form this weekend with a return visit by Maestra Marin Alsop.

She said she misses us. And we miss her. How soon will we be missing the Sun?

About The Author

Len Lazarick

len@marylandreporter.com

Len Lazarick was the founding editor and publisher of MarylandReporter.com and is currently the president of its nonprofit corporation and chairman of its board He was formerly the State House bureau chief of the daily Baltimore Examiner from its start in April 2006 to its demise in February 2009. He was a copy editor on the national desk of the Washington Post for eight years before that, and has spent decades covering Maryland politics and government.

2 Comments

  1. David plymyer

    I was moved to comment by today’s news that Pamela Wood is the latest Baltimore Sun reporter to jump ship for the Baltimore Banner. The accelerating pace of the departures is a sure sign that, at least in the minds of many of its veteran reporters, the Sun’s ship is sinking. Yes, some excellent reporters remain behind, but the city’s “newspaper of record” now has lost the core of its newsroom.

    In another era, and with a different owner, there would be a chance that the Sun would fight back, trying to make it difficult for the Banner to gain a foothold. It would mean spending money to hire and retain talent, even cutting subscription costs to gain a competitive advantage that the Banner could not overcome.

    Such measures do not seem to be in Alden Global Capital’s repertoire. The Sun has been reducing locally reported content, increasingly relying on wire service and other purchased content. It’s losing its character as a local and regional newspaper, and the trend seems irreversible.

    It obviously is headed to all-digital publication, calculating that the savings from not printing on paper will offset the inevitable loss of subscribers. Can the Sun survive these changes? I doubt it.

    I wish the Banner all the success in the world, as a hedge (pardon the pun) against the demise of the Sun. Few places need strong local journalism as badly as Baltimore. I’d like to see the Sun rally to the occasion, but I am not holding my breath.

    David Plymyer
    Catonsville, Maryland

  2. Herb Cromwell

    Your commentary “The Slow Setting of the Sun” (Feb 2, 2022) resonated with me. I love the Baltimore Sun — its journalistic integrity, its thorough and professional coverage of local to international news, its editorial point of view, most of its columnists (thankfully Cal Thomas is gone), its connection to its readers, and even its fonts and layouts. I’ve taken home delivery all my adult life because the feel of the newsprint makes the Sun’s content more vibrant and even personal.

    The banner boasts “Light For All,” but I fear the light is dimming. Days after Alden Global Capital bought the Sun and other Tribune papers, my subscription cost jumped from $82 per period to $105 (after a protracted effort to reach a human being, I negotiated it down to $87.) Then came word of buy-outs of good writers like Andrea McDaniels who published her farewell on the op-ed page she edited. On August 25 we learned that David Zurawik, one of the best media critics in the business, had suddenly retired. That same month brought format changes that reek of corporate cost-cutting at its worst; I can image green eye-shaded functionaries slashing expenses for paper, salaried journalists and editorial staff. The Sun seems a shell of its former self.

    What’s happening to the Sun will likely mean fewer readers, reduced ad revenue and an even more diminished product. A great American newspaper may go the way of so many others the country has lost. Without good journalism, the dumbing down of America will continue unimpeded as conspiracy replaces truth and facts become optional. Our sense of a shared reality will further erode. And I will have lost an old friend.

    Can democracy survive if hedge funds own newspapers?

    Herb Cromwell
    6023 Ivy League Dr., Catonsville MD
    410-971-5007

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