As The Sun’s 185th anniversary nears, we look back on its coverage and community ties | COMMENTARY

Candles honoring Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiassen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters flicker as the sun sets during a candlelight vigil on Friday, June 29, 2018, at Annapolis Mall for the five Capital Gazette employees slain during a shooting spree in their newsroom. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun/TNS)

Ten years ago, on The Sun’s 175th anniversary, we took stock of the paper’s editorial board positions on some of the biggest issues facing the country over those many years, largely focusing on what we thought earlier writers had gotten wrong: They were pro-Confederacy, anti-New Deal, and, it appears, they never saw U.S. involvement in World War II coming. The piece was a fairly lighthearted look at some very serious subjects. Forgive us if we’re slightly more sober now, as we reflect on turning 185, which the paper will do May 17. The past decade has been a trying one, for both the news industry and the populace.

Weekday circulation for newspapers, from both print and digital subscriptions, was around 43 million in 2012; in 2020, it was down to 23 million. And while the decline in print readership has been tempered by an increase in digital (The Sun has more than 6 million unique monthly visitors), the days when a majority of American households subscribe to a newspaper in any form appear to be over. There are just too many other options for information on social media and cable television — particularly the kind that tells you only what you want to hear.


The intense partisanship in this country, worsened during the Donald Trump years, along with the rise of viral conspiracy theories also has taken a large toll on the industry, as has the pandemic, which has taken a million American lives and disrupted the economy. And the smear campaign directed toward traditional news media, labeling as “fake” the important work we do — often at all hours and to the detriment of our personal lives and health — certainly doesn’t help. We are forever grateful to our loyal readers who weather the storms alongside us.

We do what we do because we believe the work has value. We have faithfully chronicled, photographed, analyzed and interpreted the best, worst and sometimes mundane moments of the past 185 years. We’ve noted births and deaths, weddings and inaugurations. We’ve covered sports wins and losses among the pros and the high school teams. We’ve been to the school board meetings, the county council hearings and the court proceedings. We were there when the Browns came to town, and the Colts left; when Mayor Donald Schaefer frolicked in the seal pool at the National Aquarium and Mayor Catherine Pugh removed Confederate statues under cover of night; when people took to the streets in 1968 after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and again in 2015, after Freddie Gray died while in police custody. We are committed to telling this region’s stories for the long haul.


And despite the industry’s challenges, The Sun remains the largest newsroom in the region, with more than 100 journalists working across multiple media properties. Our efforts are more focused today, shining a spotlight on local issues more intensely than ever before.

With this as a mission, The Sun won the Pulitzer Prize for local reporting in 2020, for stories uncovering the Healthy Holly book scheme that led to Mayor Pugh’s eventual resignation. The Capital, our sister paper, was recognized with a special Pulitzer citation in 2019 for its brave and compelling coverage of the mass murder of five staff members at its Annapolis office on June 28, 2018. Combined, Baltimore Sun Media publications have been Pulitzer finalists six times, just since 2015, when Freddie Gray’s police-involved death sparked unrest throughout the city and reflection among its many institutions, including The Sun.

This year, as part of that ongoing process, the editorial board published an apology for, and accounting of, the paper’s failures in covering Black communities, going back to the Civil War days and those pro-Confederacy leanings we noted in 2012. While Sun journalists have performed countless public services throughout the paper’s long history, those days of advocating for the oppression of others weigh heavily. We are committed to learning from our past and to doing better for all of our futures.

Today, with another war underway in Europe and the potential for further U.S. involvement still uncertain, our editorial board is clear on that. The Sun has survived the births of radio, television and the internet, and it has outlasted numerous competitors. We expect many more milestone anniversaries ahead — for we have much work to do.

Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.