The Baltimore Sun’s new owner doesn’t seem to be on the same page as the paper’s staff.
David D. Smith, the chairman of the monopolistic, conservative, local media empire Sinclair Broadcast Group, scooped up Baltimore’s hometown legacy paper last week for an unspecified, nine-figure dollar point—but his outsize ideas and a crude first impression might have just slapped a damper on the partnership from the get-go.
During a contentious two-hour meet and greet with staff on Tuesday, Smith said he had read the daily paper—which has been a staple in the Baltimore market since its inception in 1837—just four times, according to NPR’s David Folkenflik.
Despite that, Smith seems to be keen on making some big changes. He announced that although the Sun was a profitable enterprise, it could be more profitable. Smith harangued the paper for failing to focus on what he deemed were stories worth reader interest, like fraud in local government, Folkenflik reported. The Baltimore Sun won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting for its investigation on corruption in the Baltimore mayor’s office.
The Baltimore Banner reported that in the same meeting, Smith was asked about previous comments he made in 2018, when he claimed that print media is “so left-wing as to be meaningless dribble.” Smith said he stood by those comments. Asked again if he felt that way about The Baltimore Sun specifically, he replied, “In many ways, yes.”
It’s clear what Smith’s aim is with his purchase of Maryland’s largest daily newspaper. His TV empire’s local Baltimore station has been keen on a series of coverage blaming the city’s Black, Democratic mayor, Brandon Scott, for a flurry of local issues, including ongoing gun violence and education-related issues. And Smith’s tax records, obtained by the Associated Press, paint a clearer picture of the multimillionaire’s political affiliations, with donations to far-right political messaging machines like Project Veritas and Turning Point USA. Campaign contributions by the 73-year-old have also generally veered Republican for the last couple decades, according to a report by the Center for Public Integrity.
Smith deflected questions about his own political leanings in Tuesday’s meeting with staff. Instead, he spent most of the time talking about profits, at one point ordering reporters to “go make me some money,” according to The Baltimore Banner.
If this first meeting is any indication, Smith’s takeover could mean the paper will soon be forced to mime changes at Sinclair-bought local stations, focusing on negative coverage of the state’s Black leadership, including Governor Wes Moore, a rising party star who has been described by DNC insiders as a “future president.”
The Sun will not technically be included in the Sinclair media empire. Instead, under Smith’s helm, the paper will be under local ownership for the first time in nearly four decades, according to the paper. The media magnate will own it privately and in partnership with one of his on-air commentators, Armstrong Williams.
Like most legacy papers around the nation, The Baltimore Sun has been gutted and gutted again by decades of cycling corporate ownership that have drained resources, cut salaries, and depleted staff for the sake of inflated executive bonuses. The Sun’s last change of hands came in May 2021, when the hedge fund Alden Global Capital purchased Tribune Publishing for $633 million, snatching The Baltimore Sun and nearly 200 other local U.S. newspapers, including The New York Daily News and The Chicago Tribune, in the process.