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March 3, 2024

Sinclair Chairman Reacquires Baltimore Sun Media

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Jan 16, 2024

David D. Smith, chairman of the conservative broadcasting company Sinclair Broadcast Group, has purchased The Baltimore Sun Media group from Tribune Publishing in a surprise $65 million deal announced Monday. The sale marks a return to local ownership for the 173-year-old newspaper after being owned by a series of corporate chains for the past several decades.

Sale Ends Tribune Ownership Since 2014

Tribune Publishing, itself recently purchased by hedge fund Alden Global Capital, had owned the Sun since completing its $583 million acquisition of the paper and its community papers from the Tribune Company in 2014. The sale comes just one week after Alden dropped its attempt to purchase the rest of Tribune amid pressure from Tribune’s board and shareholder groups.

Smith has deep ties to the region, having grown up in Baltimore where his father started Sinclair Broadcast Group. He built the company into the nation’s largest owner of TV stations before being ousted as CEO last year for inappropriate conduct towards a female employee. Sinclair drew controversy under Smith’s leadership for imposing “must run” conservative political commentary on its local stations.

Employees Cautiously Optimistic About Local Ownership

In a letter to readers, the Sun’s editor and publisher acknowledged reservations among staff about returning to local ownership under Smith but said they would judge the new ownership by its actions and commitment to upholding the paper’s standards. While not endorsing Smith’s political leanings, they welcomed investment in the paper after a decade of cuts under Tribune and expressed cautious optimism that local ownership would benefit the community.

Many employees recalled Smith positively from his early years leading Sinclair and supporting the station’s news operations. Smith said his goal was to revitalize the paper and make it the source for essential local coverage, though he declined to discuss specific investment plans or changes to operations. Analysts say Smith likely overpaid for the chain and that significant investment would be needed to stabilize and grow digital subscriptions.

Baltimore Leaders Emphasize Need for Editorial Independence

Political and civic leaders in Baltimore stressed the need for the Sun to maintain its editorial independence under local ownership. While not directly criticizing Smith, they noted the appearance of conflicts of interest given his role at Sinclair and the company’s history of imposing right-leaning viewpoints on its stations. Smith has said the Sun would have full editorial control of its reporting while aligning its “community building agenda” with his vision.

Protests against the sale have so far been limited, with most adopting a wait-and-see approach. However, activist groups have indicated they will watchdog the paper closely for any lapses in journalistic integrity or independence. The union representing Sun journalists has said it will negotiate strong protections for editorial control and jobs in its next contract.

What Happens Next?

In the near term, many analysts expect Smith will invest funds and resources to at least stabilize the struggling chain after a decade of cuts under Tribune ownership. However circulations and revenues will likely continue their steady decline without more transformational changes to make the paper indispensable to its remaining print subscribers and grow its digital audience.

On the editorial side, early indications suggest little overt interference from Smith in areas like political coverage. However, critics watch for more subtle influence in the framing and placement of stories favoring Sinclair’s interests. The establishment of a public or nonprofit ownership structure could eventually emerge as the best way to guarantee the Sun’s editorial independence while providing needed financial support.

Year Owner Circulation
1837 Arunah S. Abell Founded with 400 circulation
1986 Times Mirror Company 340,000 daily
2000 Tribune Company 307,000 daily
2014 Tribune Publishing 153,000 daily
2024 David D. Smith 80,000 daily

The above table chronicles the ownership history of The Baltimore Sun newspaper since its founding in 1837, showing decreasing circulation figures under successive corporate owners. The paper fell on difficult financial times over the past two decades before being purchased by Maryland businessman David D. Smith in 2024, ending 14 years of corporate ownership by Tribune.

While no one expects a return to the Sun’s peak readership, Smith has expressed a desire to “once again make The Sun one of the nation’s premier local news organizations.” However significant investment and innovation will likely be needed to reverse the paper’s long circulation decline. Many experts say a nonprofit or public ownership model may emerge as the optimal path forward to preserve the Sun’s editorial independence and provide financial stability. For now, the employees and leaders of this storied Maryland institution welcome Smith’s commitment to local ownership while emphasizing the need to uphold trusted journalistic standards.

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By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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