Luke Broadwater, a journalist who has reported on local and state politics at The Sun for most of the last decade, is leaving the city’s daily newspaper to cover Congress for The New York Times.
Broadwater, who wrote the first in a series of stories on former Mayor Catherine Pugh’s “Healthy Holly” scandal that earned the paper a Pulitzer Prize earlier this year, says he starts at the Times’ D.C. bureau on June 8, joining a team of four other reporters covering Capitol Hill.
He will start as communities across the country grapple with unrest in response to the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd after a police officer kneeled on his neck, and as the federal government considers a second round of stimulus in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s a very stressful time in America. I’m excited about it, and it’s a huge opportunity, but also a huge responsibility,” he says in an interview Tuesday morning.
While The Sun receives its fair share of criticism, the country’s paper of record is being heavily scrutinized all over the country, he notes.
“So many people are reading the Times,” he says. “Every comma and adjective gets parsed over. It’s nerve-racking in some ways.”
Broadwater says he began talking with the Times about a job last year.
His departure from Baltimore’s major daily comes as the paper deals with challenges of its own, most notably furloughs and salary cuts imposed by parent company Tribune Publishing to counter massive losses in advertising during the pandemic.
The paper’s union said it chose to accept those cuts rather than see five staffers get laid off.
Broadwater feels “mixed emotions” about leaving.
“I do think everyone works super hard at The Sun. Everyone from the social media people to the editors, they all just work around the clock,” he says. “Everyone’s trying to do the best in a circumstance that’s not been great for the industry.”
Broadwater, who just turned 40, says he spent most of his 30s at The Sun, starting out at the morning desk before being put on the City Hall beat and, for the last two years, covering state politics in Annapolis.
“In many ways I grew up with a lot of my friends at the paper,” he says. “So I’m sorry to leave because of that, and I believe in the mission of covering Baltimore and Maryland really well.”
Before his 30s, he interned at the newspaper in 2001 as a junior in college, covering high school sports and calling up coaches around the region to take box scores from local games over the phone.
After graduation, he inquired about job openings and landed at the Howard County Times on the education beat. Covering a school board is where he started to learn how to report on hard news.
From there, he covered cops and courts at The Baltimore Examiner, a free weekly paper that launched in 2006 and closed three years later.
He then got a job at the newspaper he read growing up. He remembers running out from his Catonsville home as a child to pick up the paper so he could be first to grab the sports section. His family has read it for decades, and his grandfather used to keep a book of all the letters he wrote to the editor, Broadwater recalls.
“It was very much a dream job to work for my hometown paper,” he says.
Today’s primary election, which Broadwater will cover, presents a proper book end of sorts.
While at the Examiner, he covered parts of Sheila Dixon’s corruption trial, meaning the story he writes tonight may highlight one of the biggest political comebacks in Baltimore history.
And one of Broadwater’s first stories on the City Hall beat at The Sun was the 2011 primary. He remembers covering the 2nd District race and seeing Brandon Scott, now the city council president and a leading contender to become mayor.
“He was eager,” Broadwater recalls of the councilman who was then in his mid-20s. “He would almost like sprint up to each of the voters coming in and pass out his pamphlets and talk to them. I was like, ‘This guy is hustling.'”
As he prepares to depart for the Times, Broadwater says he hopes the Baltimore Sun Guild’s Save Our Sun campaign to have the paper bought by local foundations and turned into a nonprofit is ultimately successful.
“I just worry how good of a paper The Sun can continue to be with the current model,” he says. “I think we still do tremendous work and still punch above our weight.”
He concedes the paper will probably never return to the glory days of foreign bureaus and having its own Washington press team, but the nonprofit model has worked in other cities and could stabilize the city’s largest news organization.
After years of cuts that have forced the newspaper to shrink coverage, The Sun still has a lot of talent on the masthead, and when major news breaks, the newsroom bands together, Broadwater says.
“Even though the paper keeps shrinking, everybody’s really scrappy. If there’s a big story, everybody jumps on it and rallies around it. We can’t cover everything anymore, but we can cover the big story of the day really hard and as best as possible.”