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June 20, 2024, 1:21 p.m.
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Sarah Scire   |   June 20, 2024

The Baltimore Banner celebrated its second birthday this week with a “B” cake, balloons, and a pair of announcements.

First up, the nonprofit newsroom shared it now has 49,000 paid subscribers. Of those, 47,000 are individual subscribers and 2,000 are institutional subscribers who have activated their accounts. (Previously, The Banner included other group subscriptions in this total.) That’s more than a 40% increase in the past six months, which has also included the arrival of new CEO Bob Cohn in February 2024.

“We’ve seen steady and reliable growth throughout the year,” said Cohn, formerly the president of The Economist, in an email. “There were some spikes along the way, naturally: in January (after the sale of The Baltimore Sun), in March and April (around our coverage of the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge) and in the run-up to Maryland’s primary election day in May.”

With 80 full-time journalists, The Baltimore Banner has surpassed The Baltimore Sun — acquired by the outspoken conservative owner of Sinclair Broadcast Group earlier this year — as the city’s largest newsroom. The Banner relies on a mix of subscriptions, ads, donations, and live events and made $5 million in advertising and events revenue in 2023. More than 155,000 people subscribe to at least one of news org’s dozen email newsletters.

As the annual Digital News Report released by the Reuters Institute showed, many digital news subscribers pay less than full price. The Baltimore Banner — which offers a promotional rate of six months for $1 — has graduated more than half of its subscribers to the regular rate of $20/month, Cohn said. Around that all-important transition to full-price, The Banner uses renewal marketing that reminds subscribers of the nonprofit mission as well as subscriber perks like exclusive emails and seminars, free guest access, local guides, and more.

As Cohn wrote in an email to readers this week about The Banner’s founding:

“The idea was to strengthen Baltimore and greater Maryland by being a trusted and independent source for local news, cutting against the alarming retrenchment nationwide. ‘When local news isn’t strong and credible, bad things happen in local communities,’ our founder, Stewart Bainum, Jr., wrote in a note that day.”

The second announcement from The Banner on its birthday was a new education hub. The news org also plans to revamp its mobile app, introduce an obituaries platform, expand its local business beat, and add to regional coverage of Baltimore County, Howard County, and Anne Arundel County in its third year.

The five-person education hub will seek to answer the question: “What does it take to give every Maryland child a high-quality education?”

Philanthropic funding from the Bainum Family Foundation will allow Maya Lora to serve as The Banner’s first early childhood education reporter. Lora joins editor Rachel Mull and reporters Liz Bowie and Kristen Griffith on the education beat. Investigative reporter Jessica Calefati will also turn her focus to “what tools Maryland kids need to be successful in school, college and careers,” according to The Banner.

The newsroom is describing the education hub as its first “community-funded journalism initiative.” Baltimore Banner chief philanthropy officer Sarah Walton explained the approach meant using multiple philanthropic funders to address “specific and pressing issues and questions.”

The Banner wants to become a “key online resource hub” for Maryland families and sees the potential to apply the model to other coverage areas in the future. (Walton mentioned gun violence and the environment as examples.)

Standout work from The Baltimore Banner has included ongoing coverage of the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge and an investigation, in partnership with The New York Times’ Local Investigations Fellowship, into the city’s opioid overdose crisis. (“The death rate from 2018 to 2022 was nearly double that of any other large city, and higher than nearly all of Appalachia during the prescription pill crisis, the Midwest during the height of rural meth labs or New York during the crack epidemic.”) The first installment of a year-long investigation into how a megachurch handled allegations of child sexual abuse published Tuesday.

But unlike the majority of nonprofit newsrooms, which primarily focus on explanatory or investigative reporting, The Baltimore Banner also covers daily news — from sports and food to how to go trainspotting with your ten-year-old. Stories that have been particular hits with local readers include one about century-old love letters found in a home in Roland Park and coverage of the Orioles lease negotiations, Cohn said.

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