The Well-Funded ‘Baltimore Banner’ Will Rival ‘The Sun.’ Can it Prove Sustainable?
by Ron Cassie
Published March 21 in Baltimore Magazine
Excerpt: Stewart Bainum, the Takoma Park philanthropist behind the soon-to-be launched The Baltimore Banner, the new city digital newspaper, has shared this story before, but it bears repeating.
When he served in the General Assembly from 1979 to 1986, reporters from big-city papers like The Baltimore Sun, The Evening Sun, The Baltimore News-American, The Washington Post, and The Washington Star—as well as The Capital and smaller Maryland newspapers–swarmed the General Assembly like bees to a honeypot.
And for good reason. The state had been infamous for its corruption and drama long before the convictions of former governors Spiro Agnew and Marvin Mandel just prior to Bainum’s arrival. Several of the reporters covering Annapolis while he held elected office went on to big careers, including future PBS NewsHour host Gwen Ifill–who covered Bainum’s bill to get rid of a lucrative tax break for a politically connected all-male club in suburban Washington–and future Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Maureen Dowd. As for Bainum, he left politics and took over as CEO of his father’s nursing-home business, which he helped turn into one of the largest in the country. He never forgot, however, the important work of those journalists covering the halls of the Maryland State House, even as The Evening Sun and The Washington Star, where Ifill and Dowd were employed, respectively, fell by the wayside–and newspapers across the board began slashing staffs in the wake of falling print revenues.
Fast-forward to May 2020. Sitting out the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic at his family’s second home on the Eastern Shore, Bainum, who turned 76 last month, began brainstorming his next philanthropic endeavor. He’d made several successful early philanthropic investments in sub-Saharan Africa in recent years, including in a Liberian case-management system that improved infant mortality rates. Plainspoken, earnest, and still curious-minded–with admittedly enough of an ego that he cares about his legacy–Bainum sought another high-risk, high-public reward venture where others were not yet willing to open their wallets. Ideally, a project with the potential to establish a model that could be replicated and have a broad impact. Ideally, closer to home.