R.I.P. Baltimore Beat–alternative paper closes after several months

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After just four months, the Baltimore Beat is closing, the paper announced this morning.

Here’s the full statement: “We launched the Baltimore Beat in November 2017 in an effort to provide a new alternative, independent journalistic voice to the city. We’re proud of the work we’ve done but, unfortunately, advertising support hasn’t been sufficient to sustain us. As a result, we are closing the Beat effective immediately. Thank you to our readers and advertisers and all those who reached out to help. We’re grateful for the opportunity and regret that we are unable to continue.”

Managing editor and news editor Brandon Soderberg told Baltimore Fishbowl the news came suddenly, with the staff finding out yesterday as they were getting ready to send the next issue.

“I was certainly under the impression that they were going to give us some time, more than the time they gave us, clearly, to develop this thing,” he said.

In the waning days of City Paper (full disclosure: where I also worked), Soderberg made the case for starting a new paper and eventually found a willing partner in BNP Omnimedia, the parent company of Washington D.C.’s LGBT newspaper, the Washington Blade, and several other papers. One of the company’s co-owners, Kevin Naff, served as publisher of the Baltimore Beat, and the paper reached an agreement with the Real News Network to share and collaborate on stories.

“I didn’t do what I did to go into business with someone that I didn’t think had our back,” said Soderberg.

Though ads in the print issue were picking up in recent weeks, Soderberg said that anyone who picked up an issue could see the Beat was not flush with revenue. Even so, he said ownership wrote off the sluggish winter months as normal and never conveyed to the staff that things were dire. If they had, he would have offered to drop pages, take a salary reduction or some other cost-cutting measures.

“If it was so unprofitable to them that they couldn’t keep it going, I guess I get that,” he said. “But I don’t understand why it wasn’t communicated to us.”

Reached by email, Naff wrote he had no further comment beyond the published statement.

From the start, the Beat has tried to provide a diversity of perspectives and an independent voice.

“Journalism is very white,” editor Lisa Snowden-McCray told Baltimore Fishbowl soon after the paper was launched. “We need diversity, we need to hear more voices, we need to hear more perspectives. Hopefully that’ll be what this helps give the city.”

Naff told Fishbowl he approached Baltimore Sun Media Group after it announced the closure of the alt-weekly, and even inquired about licensing the City Paper name.

Rounding out the staff were CP alums Maura Callahan and Jennifer Marsh, serving as deputy editor and associate publisher, respectively.

In an email, Callahan said she is “proud to have made this happen with Lisa Snowden McCray and Brandon Soderberg—we each put in at least a year’s worth of work in less than half—and grateful to Brandon and Baynard Woods [of the Real News Network, which collaborated with the Beat] for coming to me last year with the idea that we can change the media landscape ourselves, here’s how we might do it.”

“I’m profoundly disappointed,” she said, “especially when Baltimore’s most vulnerable are in such dire need of an advocate. I think we provided that voice, and we were working to push that mission further.”

In this biased writer’s opinion, the Beat achieved quite a lot in its all-too-short run. The paper filled the void left by City Paper while carving its own distinctive path. And in the grand tradition of alt-weeklies everywhere, they covered stories with a heart and perspective that often eludes the mainstream press.

Soderberg said he was surprised by how quickly the Beat became part of the conversation in Baltimore. While next steps are unclear, the Baltimore Institute of Non-profit Journalism (BINJ), which Soderberg co-founded with Woods (another CP alum), is holding another fundraiser.

To date, BINJ has funded things like print issues of Lawrence Burney’s True Laurels zine on local hip-hop and culture and Reginald Thomas II’s recently released City That Hoops on basketball in Baltimore. Soderberg says the hope now is to fund news and investigate stories found in the Beat and City Paper, and that those will find a home somewhere.

And despite going through the deaths of two independent publications in Baltimore, he’s still optimistic a new project can take hold.

“I still think that there’s a lot of people out there that want to support a thing, and there’s a lot of people who have good ideas and do good work,” he said. “We’re trying to see what we can do next, or what we can imagine.”

This post has been updated.

Brandon Weigel

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