If Arunah S. Abell dared to imagine 175 years into the future when he produced the first copies of The Sun on May 17, 1837, he almost surely would have guessed that the nature of his business would remain fundamentally unchanged. The news would be printed daily onto broad sheets of paper and sold throughout the city of Baltimore and beyond. In a sense, he would have been right. If he were to be transported to The Sun's printing plant in South Baltimore, he might marvel at the scale, speed and automation of modern presses, but the process would be familiar — blank paper comes in, newspapers come out.
But if we look ahead 175 years into the future — or perhaps even 25 — we do so with a conviction that the primary way people get their news will not be the same. The speed with which people have embraced new technologies to connect themselves to the world during the last two decades leads inevitably to the conclusion that the only constant — at least in the media business — is change.
A quarter century ago, when this page marked The Sun's 150th anniversary, it proudly proclaimed the superiority of the newspaper over its upstart competitor, television. The TV market, the editors opined, had been devastated by cable and something called "VCRs." Meanwhile, they said, readers had come to realize that if they wanted in-depth, comprehensive news, they had no choice but the printed version that landed on their doorsteps in the morning, "the most comfortable, enjoyable, informative, transportable and convenient form of communication for the individual ever invented."
Now we live in a world of iPads, Twitter and Facebook, with new and more powerful forms of communication seemingly cropping up by the day. Many of our readers still agree with the sentiment our predecessors expressed 25 years ago, that nothing beats the daily newspaper for its blend of timeliness, thoroughness and convenience. But the story of The Sun in recent years has been the realization that it is not the case for many thousands of our readers in Baltimore and throughout the world who prefer to get their news through phones, tablets and computers. We produce an award-winning daily newspaper, just as generations of Sun men and women have before us, but we also publish news 24 hours a day on baltimoresun.com. Reporters communicate directly with readers through social media, and, in ways that were never before possible, readers communicate back, offering information of their own, along with commentary, praise and criticism, instantaneously and freely. Even the old divide between television and print has faded, with video an ever-increasing part of The Sun's offerings.
There is no question that this period of change has posed challenges to The Sun as a business and as a news organization. But The Sun has been through many such challenges before, and it has survived. It has always been willing to embrace innovation (it was, for example, a pioneering "penny paper" and was an early adopter of potentially disruptive technologies, starting with the telegraph). But it has paired that instinct with an understanding of what is unchanging about its role in the community. Our job is and always has been to report the news that matters to Baltimore and Maryland and to present it accurately, thoroughly and fairly. We did that in 1837, and we do that today. As a result, The Sun is not just surviving but thriving; between its print, web and mobile platforms, it now has more readers than ever before in its history.
The Sun's 175th birthday has prompted us to reflect on all the history the paper has chronicled and the extraordinary talent of those who have worked here, but it has also served as a reminder of what has made it all possible: the loyalty of our readers and advertisers. From the day A.S. Abell first promised "light for all," the community has steadfastly stood by this newspaper and its mission. We are profoundly grateful for that support, and we look forward to earning it for another 175 years.