A year into its rallying cry to save The Baltimore Sun from being sold to a hedge fund, the newspaper’s union took to the streets Saturday facing the same uncertainties as when the long-shot quest began, but with more reason for optimism.
The Washington-Baltimore News Guild launched its lobbying efforts to return The Sun, the Capital Gazette and the Carroll County Times to local ownership last April, and emotions of the newspaper’s staff and supporters have been whipsawed by events ever since.
About 50 to 75 current and former Baltimore Sun and Baltimore Sun Media employees and community activists gathered at the War Memorial Plaza on Saturday afternoon. They spoke about how they envision a nonprofit would run The Baltimore Sun, making decisions in Baltimore that benefit readers.
Baltimore Sun education reporter Liz Bowie, who is one of the leaders of the Save Our Sun campaign, spoke to the crowd about the decrease in staff over her more than 30 years there and how it affects coverage.
“We think it is not just our duty to be watchdogs of democracy, but it is also for you to hold us accountable when you are not seeing the coverage in your newspaper that you want to see,” said Bowie, who is also a guild leader. “Please, please help us make this a reality.”
Initial attempts by the local nonprofit Abell Foundation to carve The Sun away from parent Tribune Publishing never gained traction, and late last year Alden Global Capital seemingly ended the dream when it announced an offer to buy all of Tribune Publishing Co.
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Alden, which has amassed nearly 200 newspapers and built a reputation for gutting staffs and lowering quality, had been harshly criticized by journalists in the Tribune chain, which also includes the flagship Chicago Tribune and the Hartford Courant.
But February brought terms of the sale and a surprise. It appeared The Sun would be sold to Stewart Bainum Jr., a Maryland native and chairman of the Choice Hotel chain. Bainum intended to run the newspaper as a nonprofit.
Less than a month later, negotiations between Alden Capital and Bainum collapsed.
Bainum then moved to buy the entire Tribune company for $650 million, $20 million more than Alden’s February bid. The Tribune board of directors voted to stick with Alden’s lower offer over uncertainties that Bainum could obtain the funding needed for such a move. It did invite him to seek more partners or to provide proof of funding.
And late last month Bainum teamed with billionaire Hansjörg Wyss. Wyss said he intended to operate the Chicago Tribune as his own, while Bainum would control the Maryland publications. The two men would look for buyers for the other newspapers.
Federal regulators have yet to weigh in on whether they will make any efforts to slow Alden’s expansion. And Tribune’s shareholders must approve any deal.
Based on Tribune Publishing’s most recent regulatory filings with the SEC, a final decision could come by the end of June.