Baltimore doesn’t have a single extra media outlet this summer, it has two.
the Beat of Baltimoreappeared after The Baltimore Sun bought then closed the old alt-weekly city paperis relaunched in July as a black-run bimonthly print newspaper and website.
Initial funding for the stimulus came from a $1 million gift from the Baltimore-based Lillian Holofcener Charitable Foundation. Baltimore’s other upcoming outlet, The Baltimore Bannerwill be a daily news site that should compete The Baltimore Sun with a pledge of $50 million in seed funding from founder Stewart Bainum and other investors.
the To beat, which launched in print in 2017 and eventually ceased operation as a digital outlet in 2020, is run by its original editor, Lisa Snowden-McCray, and two other Baltimore-based black journalists. Previously, Snowden-McCray served as editor of City Paper, The Sunand more recently, The real information network. J. Brian Charles, a veteran Baltimore-based journalist with more than 16 years of experience in the areas of race, class, education, housing, politics and criminal justice, will serve as associate editor. Charles’ work for The trace, a national website dedicated to reporting gun violence, won an ASME finalist name for special interest coverage last year. Teri Henderson, recently editor and gallery coordinator for the well-regarded local arts journal, BmoreArt, will serve as arts and culture editor. She is also the author of the book 2021, Black collagists.
Old Baltimore city paper editor-in-chief Brandon Soderberg will serve as chief operating officer for Rhythm. He is also co-author of the book, I Got A Monster: The Rise and Fall of America’s Most Corrupt Police Squadabout the city’s infamous Gun Trace Task Force.
The full-time staff will initially consist of these four people, but a photo editor should be added soon. Snowden-McCray says that just like the city paper, Rhythm will have a substantial independent budget and cover much of the same ground – arts and music, food, politics, police, criminal justice, education, environment and housing – covering not only the city’s struggles, but celebrating Baltimore neighborhood life and flourishing culture.
The website will also include outside editorials and commentary, as well as staff editorials. The generous contribution from the Lillian Holofcener Charitable Foundation has enabled a full year of planning and has already helped to spark further philanthropic investment in the newspaper. The idea, according to Snowden-McCray and Soderberg, is to build slowly and sustainably — eventually becoming a weekly publication — in part to avoid burnout for the relatively small team.
Snowden-McCray says she was inspired by what digital-only, but similar in size Baltimore Brewery was able to perform in his work covering local government. She was also inspired by the long history, creativity and success against all odds of The Afro in Baltimore.
“It was really a process of growth and I learned a lot about media, including my failures,” says Snowden-McCray of the years-long effort to try and successfully recreate a version of the city paperBaltimore’s widely respected and long-loved alternative newspaper. “One of the things I’ve learned on my journey is to keep things as simple as possible and cut things down to the essentials, and I’ve taken the best parts of it. city paper with me.
“I think what made the city paper the main thing was to cover arts and culture, food and deeply reported stories about politics. Determine the best way our team can do it [is the challenge]. We may not be able to cover everything, right away, but what we cover, we really want to do well.
In the tradition of the alternative weekly, Charles says the mission is to focus on people and communities, rather than institutions, in their longer stories and narratives.
“We’re going to try not to say, ‘Hey, it’s important for us to cover City Hall,'” Charles said in a recent Zoom interview with the Baltimore Beat’s offices at the Co-Lab Workspace in Remington. “It’s important. But we want to get into people’s neighborhoods and communities, and have people in those communities be the primary drivers of what we talk about and how we tell stories. Rather than to tell a story about housing through the lens of how city hall deals with an issue, we need to tell stories about how the people of the city of Baltimore are struggling with [a housing issue] and the city’s response to that.
Henderson says she hopes to push the boundaries of arts coverage, decoupling it from historically largely white-led and white-funded institutions in Baltimore.
“BmoreArt‘s primary audience are older white women who can afford to pay for an art publication that comes out twice a year,” she says. “My goal with the Beat of Baltimorewhat i did with it BmoreArt, with a project on DJs, for example, is to elevate and make space for black, brown and queer creatives who are often overlooked by the predominantly white art world. She also highlights the need for multiple journalists, perspectives and spaces covering the diversity of Baltimore’s art scene.
Snowden-McCray, Charles and Henderson all emphasize that they do not view arts and culture as a separate mission from their other reporting, but as an integral part of coverage of the whole of city life. What is distinct, however, from the old City paper, sun, or Banner is the To beat’s mission to directly serve Baltimore’s black majority community.
“It’s a black diary,” says Snowden-McCray. “I know we have black newspapers here, like the afro, but it does the black people a disservice to say that we only get a few. The more, the better. Black people are not a monolith, so we provide another perspective and we provide another opportunity for black journalists to work. »
Another goal is to eventually sponsor young black journalists, ideally through formal paid internships, but also by simply providing an outlet to report and write on a short-term basis. “Creating a pathway for young black journalists is as important as getting the job done,” says Snowden-McCray.
Finally, the bimonthly print version of Rhythm, at around 20 pages to start this summer, will be placed in 50 to 100 boxes, mostly located in the city’s majority black communities. The content will also be shared on the Beats website. The prototype box is still being worked on, and Soderberg says the hope is that the boxes will also serve utilitarian purposes, providing gloves and hats needed in winter, and possibly free first aid, toiletries and the antidote for opioid overdoses, naloxone.
“It’s really important to me that everything we do is community driven,” says Soderberg. “Not only are we a community-oriented newspaper, but we also provide real material help to people. We want to walk this way.
Speaking of the importance of producing a print publication, Snowden-McCray says it has always been a non-negotiable part of the revival, given the lack of internet access in many parts of the city and in many households. There will also be no paywall on the website, for similar fairness reasons.
“More than 40% of households in the city do not have a broadband connection, and up to 75,000 households do not have a desktop or laptop computer,” Charles notes. “There is also a large audience there.”
Seed funding for the new To beat is an unusual story in itself. The Lillian Holofcener Charitable Foundation, which had about $1 million in total in its fund, typically awarding $8,000 to $10,000 each year in grants, initially approached Soderberg and McCray after the death of George Floyd. The family, including local nonprofit attorney Adam Holofcener, had been fans of both the city paper and Rhythm, and retooling discussions Rhythm started in earnest in the fall of 2020.
“The idea is that it’s a white foundation, a white family that made their money in East Baltimore, finding a way to support Black Baltimore,” says Soderberg. It’s worth pointing out that there are no strings attached to the funds, adds Soderberg, and that the funding “isn’t trickling out, which you often see, but which hurts organizations because it prevents them from grow. This money gave us a year of planning, then about a year of [operating] budget. We have since raised enough funds to fund a [operating] a year and a half budget. Rhythm was established as its own nonprofit organization, with its own nonprofit board of directors.
Continued support will need to come from other philanthropic organizations, as well as contributions from local audiences and readers who deem the project worthwhile. Whether Rhythm can generate sustainable annual budgets from these contributions, and for how long, is of course the major question, as is the case for a growing number of new local non-profit journalism outlets in the city, l state and throughout the country. But they have a good start.
“We were interested in doing a grant, a capital amount, to give them time to prepare, and also to hire more and better people than they would otherwise have,” says Adam Holofcener, about the decision to empty the coffers of his family foundation to relaunch Rhythm. “It was also important to us that as a white Jewish family we were part of the surrender of power that comes with this kind of money. We wanted to rid ourselves, our family, of the privilege that usually dictates politics [in this case, of a media outlet].
“Donors make policy within the municipal government, in terms of development, whether it’s commercial real estate, job creation, or culture creation,” Holofcener continues. “And so it was just as important to divest – to take some of that power away from us – and to give that power back to the community.”