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Report: Stewart Bainum Jr. Plans To Launch 'The Baltimore Banner,' An All-Digital News Outlet

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Stewart W. Bainum Jr., the hotel magnate who launched a failed bid to acquire The Sun and the rest of the newspapers owned by Tribune Publishing, plans to open a new nonprofit, all-digital publication called The Baltimore Banner, according to a new report in The Atlantic.

Bainum, chairman of Choice Hotels International, told the magazine the organization will start with an annual operating budget of $15 million and a staff of 50 journalists.

In preparation for the launch, Bainum met with local news start-ups around the country to learn best practices and came away thinking all of them needed more funding to bulk up operations.

"You need real capital to move the needle," he told the magazine.

If his plan to start a new outlet in Baltimore proves successful, he hopes it can be replicated in other markets where local newspapers have suffered years of staff cuts.

"There's no industry that I can think of more integral to a working democracy than the local-news business," he said.

Faced with the prospect of being acquired by Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund dubbed "the grim reaper of American newspapers" by Vanity Fair, a group of Baltimore Sun journalists in 2020 launched the Save Our Sun campaign and lobbied for local ownership to turn the newspaper into a nonprofit. Other Tribune papers soon followed suit.

Bainum came forward as an interested buyer of The Sun, and reportedly reached a deal to purchase the newspaper for $65 million once Alden Global Capital acquired Tribune Publishing.

But Alden added a licensing deal that would have added millions to the price, according to the Atlantic article, so Bainum tried to line up other backers to put in a bid for Tribune Publishing as a whole.

Tribune shareholders approved Alden Global Capital's bid last May, not long after Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss reportedly dropped his support for the rival bid.

Bainum reached out to one of Alden Global Capital's co-founders, Heath Freeman, after the purchase was completed to inquire about buying The Sun separately but never got a response, according to the Atlantic article.

In the story, Freeman defended Alden's cost-cutting practices.

"Prior to the acquisition of the Tribune Company, we purchased substantially all of our newspapers out of bankruptcy or close to liquidation," he told the magazine. "These papers were in many cases left for dead by local families not willing to make the tough but appropriate decisions to get these news organizations to sustainability. These papers would have been liquidated if not for us stepping up."

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