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Marc Steiner says that we need independent and alternative media like The City Paper to do the important work of investigative reporting, as the popular weekly’s fate follows national trend of media consolidation

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JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Jaisal Noor.

Here in Baltimore, the free alternative weekly the City Paper has been purchased by the Baltimore Sun Media Group, the owner of its competitor The Baltimore Sun. Its 25 full-time employees will be terminated, but can still reapply for their jobs.

In recent years, the 37-year-old paper’s circulation was in decline, but its print and online circulation still reach about 250,000 people every week.

Last year, another alternative Baltimore news source, The Indypendent Reader, also voluntarily ceased publication.

Now joining us to discuss this is Marc Steiner. He’s the host of The Marc Steiner Show, which airs on 89.9 WEAA FM and president and founder of the Center for Emerging Media.

Thank you so much for joining us, Marc.


NOOR: So, Marc, tell us about this paper the City Paper, what it represented in Baltimore. And did it serve as the necessary counterpoint or the counterpoint to the much larger Baltimore Sun, which is known as the paper of Baltimore City?

STEINER: Well, I mean, it’s been around for a long time. It started in 1977. It wasn’t–you can’t look at it as a counterweight to or counterpoint to The Sun, because it’s a weekly and The Sun was a daily.

But what it did was it told stories about culture, about counterculture, about underground culture in Baltimore. It devoted itself to investigative reporting. I mean, The Sun long ago decided not to invest in the very expensive work of investigative work. The City Paper had two really good–and others, but two really good investigative reporters and Ed Ericson. And they really did some incredible work. That’s what they offered: the cultural scene and investigative work.

They had humorous pieces with graphics. It was an alive paper, because it was a paper that was built for and towards younger audiences, towards people who were engaged in city life. So it was a very specific thing. Still is.

NOOR: And, you know, it’s said often these days that investigative journalism is in decline or maybe even dead. Why is investigative journalism important in a city like Baltimore? And what does the end of The Indypendence and the City Paper mean for other local, independent news outlets such as your own Steiner Show? You know, there’s the Baltimore Brew. And The Real News will be expanding its Baltimore coverage, right? So this is sort of in our interests in a way.

STEINER: Well, I think that–I mean, when you look at The Sun editorial today–or a couple of days ago, they talked about why the health care system, the computer system didn’t work, and should there be investigations. Well, they could simply have put in that editorial and asked the question–we don’t know if there’s a link or not. But the group that got the award, Maximus, was owned by a company that’s also involved in serving health care, is also a company that gave a huge amount of money to the Democratic governors conference when Governor Martin O’Malley was the head of that governors conference.

So without an investigative team, you cannot really unearth what all that means, if it means anything. But you have to have people who can look under that to find out what’s going on. Without investigative newspapers and reporters, that’s not going to happen. So it’s left to small units, it’s left to places like Channel 11, on a smaller scale, where they do that. But really what the City Paper did was to take a topic and really figure out why things were going on. And that’s very critical to the future.

The question is: will the City Paper change (is what you were asking)? We can’t tell yet. I mean, the Sun has bought it, which means the Tribune bought it, which is a nationwide system. Historically, when a group of papers like that have bought a small alternative paper, over a period of time, whether it’s a year or two years, the papers have either been closed or changed drastically.

Will that happen here? We don’t know yet. Everybody is going to have to put in their resignation. This Friday they’re going to find out whether or not who has been hired back. And we’ll see what all that means. I think the editorials will be hired back. But, I mean, it’s unclear what that means yet.

NOOR: And you just touched upon this, but this is a trend we’re seeing across the country, media consolidation. Talk about the ramifications of this for our society and for democracy in America today.

STEINER: Well, it’s horrendous. I mean, you don’t have the give and take of a vibrant journalistic system in a city, things don’t get uncovered, things don’t get talked about.

Baltimore had the Baltimore Evening Sun. They had The Morning Sun, News-America, and the Afro-American, all these small community newspapers. It had the City Paper. Before that there was Harry and some other newspapers that were alternative media in this city.

And now we’re down to what? We’re down to TV stations that don’t give, generally, deep coverage to things, and to The Sun, now the only city paper.

I mean, the staff thinks it’s staying in place. We’ll see. I hope they stay in place. There are some good people there.

But without a vibrant, competitive system of journalism, people get away with anything they want to get away with. You can’t find the kind of news that we deserve.

NOOR: Well, Marc Steiner, this certainly ups the ante for the ones of us that are left behind.

STEINER: It does that, doesn’t it? Yes, it does.

NOOR: Thank you so much for joining us, Marc.

STEINER: My pleasure.

NOOR: You can follow us @therealnews on Twitter. Tweet me questions and comments @jaisalnoor.

Thank you so much for joining us.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Host, The Marc Steiner Show
Marc Steiner is the host of "The Marc Steiner Show" on TRNN. He is a Peabody Award-winning journalist who has spent his life working on social justice issues. He walked his first picket line at age 13, and at age 16 became the youngest person in Maryland arrested at a civil rights protest during the Freedom Rides through Cambridge. As part of the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, Marc helped organize poor white communities with the Young Patriots, the white Appalachian counterpart to the Black Panthers. Early in his career he counseled at-risk youth in therapeutic settings and founded a theater program in the Maryland State prison system. He also taught theater for 10 years at the Baltimore School for the Arts. From 1993-2018 Marc's signature “Marc Steiner Show” aired on Baltimore’s public radio airwaves, both WYPR—which Marc co-founded—and Morgan State University’s WEAA.