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Cardin: The Sun must meet a higher standard than one of its holiday gift guide demonstrates | READER COMMENTARY

A $50 boxed tea set from Cuples Tea House on North Howard Street in Baltimore would make a worthy holiday gift. Nov. 30, 2021. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun).
A $50 boxed tea set from Cuples Tea House on North Howard Street in Baltimore would make a worthy holiday gift. Nov. 30, 2021. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun). (Amy Davis/Amy Davis)

As a lifelong reader of The Baltimore Sun, I have been proud of the paper’s coverage of the pandemic and its impact on small businesses in our community. The Sun’s coverage has informed the COVID-19 small business relief policies that I have helped to enact in the U.S. Senate as the chair of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee.

So, like other readers, I was disappointed to find a “2021 Holiday gift guide” published in these pages that included no reference to small businesses in the Baltimore region (”How about more love for local shopping?” Nov. 26). The identical guides that were published in other newspapers owned by Tribune Publishing Company revealed that this isn’t just a Baltimore problem, but a reminder that local newspapers are withering at the hands of large publishing companies and Wall Street investors.

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In May, Tribune Publishing Company was sold to Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund known for cutting newspaper staff and costs. Too often, when local newspapers are bought by larger companies, they are not treated as vital community pillars, but as sources of consistent revenue and profits. As it happens, days after publishing the guide, press reports revealed that Tribune intends to close the local Sun Park printing plant that has printed the paper since 1992.

In Baltimore, The Sun remains a critical institution that help us better understand our neighbors and communities including our small businesses. The response from Baltimore small business owner Kristin Wiebe, who wrote that she “was disheartened and demoralized” by the guide, shows that our community still demands a newspaper with a strong local presence. I am proud that The Sun has since published a guide produced by its newsroom focused on the Baltimore region. Maryland small business owners deserve to see themselves and their peers in the pages of The Baltimore Sun.

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The disruption to the local news industry caused by rise of the internet has been well-documented and it has been exacerbated by both the 2008 financial crisis and COVID-19 pandemic. That’s why I pushed to expand access to the Paycheck Protection Program to local news outlets and why I introduced the Newspaper Revitalization Act in 2009 to allow newspapers to operate as nonprofits — a model that I am proud has been adopted by newspapers around the nation. I am disappointed that local philanthropists and Alden were unable to reach an agreement to continue operation of The Sun under such a model.

My hope is that the response to the gift guide will be a reminder to Tribune and Alden that strong communities need strong local newspapers and that Baltimore Sun readers intend to hold them to that standard.

A tip for next year’s guide: Lead with the local.

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Ben Cardin, Washington, D.C.

The writer, a Democrat, has represented Maryland in the U.S. Senate since Jan. 4, 2007.

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