Inside The Relaunch Of Baltimore Beat Newspaper As A Nonprofit

Inside The Relaunch Of Baltimore Beat Newspaper As A Nonprofit

Baltimore Beat

PHOTO: Baltimore Beat staff, left to right: J. Brian Charles, Brandon Soderberg, Lisa Snowden, and Teri Henderson (Photo by Schaun Champion via BaltimoreBeat.com)

The Baltimore Beat newspaper returned In May from a two-year hiatus with a new business structure and distribution strategy.

This summer, the “Black-led, Black controlled nonprofit newspaper and media outlet” announced it will begin publishing a free hardcopy print newspaper bi-weekly in addition to its online content.

The reason for going old school when so many media outlets have become strictly digital? Black Baltimore has need of it.

“The pandemic continues to highlight the many, many inequities that exist in our communities,” the Beat Editor-In-Chief Lisa Snowden said in a statement. “Our decision to forgo a paywall and distribute a print newspaper is our way of addressing those inequities. We want to make sure everybody can access the nuanced reporting we’ll be doing.”

The Baltimore Beat initially launched in 2017 as a for-profit weekly newspaper in response to the Baltimore City Paper closing. Since then, the publication has pivoted several times. In 2018, the Beat closed its doors before transitioning in 2019 to a nonprofit online outlet with a focus on service journalism.

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The publication went on another hiatus in 2020 to strategize becoming a nonprofit after receiving support from the Baltimore-based Lillian Holofcener Charitable Foundation – which gave the Beat a “vast majority” of its holdings after the murder of George Floyd.

The foundation had about $1 million in total in its fund, generally giving out $8,000 to $10,000 each year in grants, according to Baltimore Magazine.

“The money held by the Lillian Holofcener Foundation came from Baltimore. Divesting our assets to a Black-led news organization is what Baltimore and its majority Black citizenry need right now,” said Adam Holofcener, a local nonprofit lawyer with the Lillian Holofcener Charitable Foundation. “We hope that our model of no-strings-attached, large-scale giving to Black-run, Black-controlled local organizations inspires other Baltimore philanthropic groups to act in kind.”

Snowden said the generous donation gave her and her team a “sense of freedom” to tell imaginative stories.

“The news model I thought I’d be able to raise a family on was falling apart when I was just getting started in this industry,” Snowden wrote in a Twitter thread on May 13. “And as I’ve said millions of times, journalism has never been a welcoming place for Black and working class people. That’s a problem.

“It limits the stories we tell about ourselves. It limits our capacity to be better. It limits our imagination,” she continued. “This gift from the Lillian Holofcener Charitable Foundation is a way of changing that. It means that me and my brilliant team can do our work with a sense of freedom.”

The Beat aims to reach local readers with limited internet access who live in underrepresented communities by making it a priority to report on stories that “reflect the diversity and experiences of all Baltimoreans and hold those in power accountable through investigative work, literary storytelling, and service journalism.”

Its mission is “to honor the tradition of the Black press and the spirit of alt-weekly journalism with reporting that focuses on community, questions power structures, and prioritizes thoughtful engagement with our readers,” the website states.

The Baltimore Beat website also lists 10 core values by which staff operate. Among them are to reflect Baltimore with joy and excitement, be honest and rigorous in reporting, uplift Black and other marginalized people and not ignore issues pertinent to the welfare of Baltimoreans like many have.

In addition to Snowden, the Baltimore Beat staff includes Deputy Editor J. Brian Charles, Arts and Culture Editor Teri Henderson and Director Of Operations Brandon Soderberg.

“Baltimore has always been an important city in the story of Black America. It is a place where communities are faced with corrupt policing, substandard housing, underfunded schools, power-serving politics, and an overdose crisis, among many other issues,” Charles said. “Our publication will document the challenges facing Baltimore and show readers how communities here continue to develop ideas to address and get past those challenges.”

The Beat said it is relying on support from readers and like-minded large-scale donors to help sustain it.

For all inquiries, email lisa@baltimorebeat.com.

PHOTO: Baltimore Beat staff, left to right: J. Brian Charles, Brandon Soderberg, Lisa Snowden, and Teri Henderson (Photo by Schaun Champion via BaltimoreBeat.com)