Stewart W. Bainum Jr., chairman of Choice Hotels International, Inc. and the executive behind a bid to acquire The Sun and other Tribune newspapers, plans to open a new nonprofit, all-digital publication called The Baltimore Banner, according to an exclusive report in The Atlantic.
For The Atlantic’s November cover story, “The Men Who Are Killing America’s Newspapers,” staff writer McKay Coppins reports on the secretive hedge fund Alden Global Capital and its co-founders, Randall Smith and Heath Freeman, who have spent years gutting newsrooms and damaging democracy. Despite their influence, remarkably little is known about the septuagenarian recluse Smith and his 41-year-old protégé Freeman.
According to industry experts Coppins interviewed for the story, Alden’s strategy for newspaper ownership is simple: gut the staff, sell the real estate, and jack up subscription prices while turning out a steadily worse product, indifferent to the subscribers it’s alienating in order to wring out as much cash as possible.
Bainum, who faced Alden in the Tribune bid, told the magazine that The Banner will start with an annual operating budget of $15 million. They are currently looking to hire an editor-in-chief and a staff of 50 journalists, newspaper consultant Imtiaz Patel told The New York Times.
Patel said Bainum’s goal is to build the largest newsroom in Maryland — more than 100 journalists — and lean on subscription sales to achieve sustainability. The Banner will be run as a nonprofit organization and will not offer print editions. They are currently looking to hire an editor-in-chief and a staff of 50 journalists.
Editor & Reporter reported that if his plan to start a new outlet in Baltimore proves successful, he hopes it can be replicated in other markets where local newspapers have suffered years of staff cuts.
“There’s no industry that I can think of more integral to a working democracy than the local-news business,” Bainum told The Atlantic.
A native of Takoma Park, Bainum has led businesses including four current or former publicly listed companies: Choice Hotels; HCR Manor Care, which operates nursing and assisted living facilities; Vitalink Pharmacy Services; and Sunburst Hospitality.