Hotel Magnate Plans To Debut 'Baltimore Banner' To Challenge The 'Sun'

The hotel executive who tried and failed to buy the Baltimore Sun earlier this year is planning to create a rival news publication called the Baltimore Banner.

Stewart Bainum Jr., chairman of Choice Hotels International, told the Atlantic the new publication will be a nonprofit entity and start with an annual operating budget of $15 million and a staff of 50 journalists.

The digital-only publication would compete with the Sun. Bainum aims to build the largest newsroom in Maryland, with a staff of more than 100 reporters, the newspaper consultant Imtiaz Patel, who is advising Bainum, told TheNew York Times on Thursday.

In preparation for the launch, Bainum told the Atlantic, he conducted a series of meetings with local news start-ups, including the Texas Tribune, the Daily Memphian and The City in New York to learn best practices. He concluded that  required additional funding to succeed. “You need real capital to move the needle,” he said.

Bainum said if his plan in Baltimore works, he would seek to replicate the model in other markets. “There is no industry that I can think of more integral to a working democracy than the local-news business,” he said.

Bainum’s initiative is one offshoot of this year’s most significant newspaper transaction, the $630 million acquisition in May of the Tribune Company by the hedge fund Alden Capital.

Alden, which already had a stake in more than 200 newspapers overall, acquired 25% of the Tribune Company in 2019. Tribune publishes nine major metropolitan dallies, including marquee brands such as the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, the New York Daily News, the Hartford Courant, the Virginian-Pilot and the Orlando Sentinel.

In early April, the Alden deal was upended when Bainum — who had agreed in February to buy the Baltimore Sun in a $65 million side deal — claimed Alden was changing the terms of the agreement. Instead, Bainum put together a $680 million deal for the whole company, teaming up with the Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss and exceeding the Alden offer. But Wyss pulled out in mid April, and left Bainum seeking new financing. The sale to Alden went forward.

There is a growing conversation around converting newspapers to nonprofit status, the way Bainum wanted to do with the Baltimore Sun and intends to do with the Baltimore Banner.

At least two major newspapers, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Salt Lake Tribune, have gone nonprofit in recent years, in effect becoming community assets and relying less on ad revenue and more on donors in the same way that NPR and other publicly-supported media organizations do.

The trend appears to be accelerating among local media.

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