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Executive Who Tried to Buy Baltimore Sun Plans Rival News Outlet

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Business|The executive who tried to buy The Baltimore Sun plans a rival news outlet.


Stewart W. Bainum Jr. in Washington in 2011.
Credit...Ron Sach/ZUMA

Marc Tracy

  • Oct. 14, 2021Updated 2:43 p.m. ET

He tried and failed to buy The Baltimore Sun. Now the Maryland hotel magnate Stewart W. Bainum Jr. is creating an ambitious publication meant to compete with it.

The planned digital news outlet, The Baltimore Banner, will have an annual operating budget of $15 million, and Mr. Bainum is looking to hire an editor in chief and a staff of 50 journalists, the newspaper consultant Imtiaz Patel, an adviser to Mr. Bainum, said on Thursday.

Mr. Bainum’s goal, Mr. Patel added, is to build the largest newsroom in Maryland — more than 100 journalists — and lean on subscription sales to achieve sustainability. The Baltimore Banner will be run as a nonprofit organization and will not offer print editions. The Atlantic first reported Mr. Bainum’s plans on Thursday.

The creation of The Baltimore Banner is a side result of the biggest newspaper deal of the last year, when the hedge fund Alden Global Capital bought Tribune Publishing, the company behind The Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun and other major metropolitan dailies, in a deal valued at $630 million.

Months before Tribune’s shareholders approved that sale, Alden Global Capital announced that it had reached a nonbinding deal to sell The Sun to Mr. Bainum for $65 million once the larger acquisition had been completed. Mr. Bainum’s plan was to turn the 184-year-old newspaper into a nonprofit organization that would run it as a public trust.

That arrangement fell through, however, leaving Mr. Bainum to try to put together new bids for Tribune Publishing as a whole. Those attempts did not come to fruition, but Mr. Bainum did not lose interest in becoming a publisher.

“He has this vision of building up the real alternative paper of record and investing the resources he would have put into The Sun,” Mr. Patel, the adviser, said on Thursday.

A native of Takoma Park, Md., Mr. Bainum is the chairman of Choice Hotels International, a onetime family business that is one of the largest hotel chains in the world, including the Comfort Inn and Quality Inn brands. A lifelong Democrat, he served in Maryland’s state legislature from 1979 to 1987.

When he was assembling bids for Tribune Publishing earlier this year, he hoped to find local, civic-minded benefactors willing to take ownership of the company’s individual papers, a group of large-circulation dailies that includes The Hartford Courant, The Orlando Sentinel and The Daily News.

Journalists at several Tribune papers publicly supported Mr. Bainum’s efforts to buy the company, and many of them were publicly critical of Alden Global Capital, which has a reputation for stringent cost-cutting at the dozens of newspapers it owns through a subsidiary, MediaNews Group.

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