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The Baltimore Sun has been sold to a conservative broadcast chief


For the first time in decades, The Baltimore Sun will be locally owned. The storied paper is shifting hands from a hedge fund to a local businessman, yet the identity of that owner has stunned many people in the Sun newsroom and beyond. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik once reported for The Baltimore Sun, and he joins us to talk about what's happening to the paper now. Hey, David.


SUMMERS: So, David, I got to tell you I live in Baltimore, and this is one of the only things other than the Ravens that people in town seem to be talking about right now. There was this huge outcry in the city a couple years back, when the hedge fund Alden Global Capital bought the Sun. How are people that you're talking to feeling about this turn?

FOLKENFLIK: Sure. I mean, look. I worked for the Sun for more than a decade, but it has a really proud heritage going back to 1837. The story of the Sun, nonetheless, is kind of the story of modern American newspapering. Alden is the latest in a string of big corporate owners that has, you know, time after time, decade after decade, whittled down or slashed its staffs and its ambitions. The paper has shrunk pretty sharply, and of late, Alden has said, look. We are willing to consider selling it to a benefactor. They say they've located it in the person of David D. Smith.

SUMMERS: OK. Who is David D. Smith? Tell us more about him.

FOLKENFLIK: So he is the executive chairman of Sinclair Broadcast Group, which is based in Baltimore County. I actually reported on them for a few years. They now own over 200 or control 200-plus television stations around the country. They've kind of centralized and consolidated a lot of the production of those stories, which means there's a homogenizing of them, but they've also been pulled strongly in a conservative direction. I don't think that was any accident. David Smith has given a lot of money to Republican candidates over the years and also to very conservative causes, including right-wing outlets like Project Veritas of those gotcha videos and Turning Point USA, which is really a far-right advocacy group.

SUMMERS: And this is just happening now, but do we have any sense of what David D. Smith, the new owner, wants to do with The Baltimore Sun?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, let's be clear. He's buying it himself, not with the shareholder money of Sinclair Broadcast Group. And in fact, he met - he made that point when he met today - this afternoon, in fact - for more than two hours with staffers of the Sun. It went quite a time. They left that meeting fairly on edge. Why do I say that? Well, he said he wanted to focus on local news. That sounds good. But he said two things. He said he doesn't really read the paper. He said he's only read it about four times, which is kind of astonishing for a guy whose family has been there for more than a half-century.

And he also said that it just isn't offering people news that is holding local government actors accountable - this for a newspaper that, you know, revealed corruption by the then-mayor of Baltimore that led to the Sun winning a Pulitzer just a few short years ago. I might add that he also intends to - or he has also acquired a number of smaller papers around Maryland, such as the Annapolis Capital and some others. So he really is going to have a stronghold, along with the two television stations he owns there, on a lot of reporting locally.

SUMMERS: And, David, what does this change at the Sun, this new ownership mean for the landscape of news in Baltimore and the surrounding area?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, Smith told his new staffers that, you know, the Sun was profitable but that he meant to make it more profitable, probably profitable on the back of a lot of those cuts. So the question is, is he going to invest, or is he going to slash back further? Alden had been expected to actually diminish the size of staff even more than it's already been, but it hadn't done so to the extent thought - expected because the new Baltimore Banner, a not-for-profit, sprung up and has provided tough competition. It was backed by a Maryland hotel magnate who had failed to be able to acquire the Sun itself.

SUMMERS: NPR's David Folkenflik. Thank you, as always.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
Alejandra Marquez Janse
Alejandra Marquez Janse is a producer for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered. She was part of a team that traveled to Uvalde, Texas, months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to cover its impact on the community. She also helped script and produce NPR's first bilingual special coverage of the State of the Union – broadcast in Spanish and English.

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