August 15, 2017

First, Marc Steiner announced that his popular radio news show was going off the air in late July. Then, the Baltimore City Paper announced it will close its doors later this year.

Now, a nonprofit journalism institute is trying to fill the hole left by both outlets — and restore the city’s alternative media.

A new, Baltimore-based affiliate of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism (BINJ) launched a crowdfunding effort on IndieGoGo Friday with the goal of raising $25,000 over the next month to support local community journalism projects. As of publication, it had raised more than $3,000 from 44 backers.

“Baltimore is facing a crisis of journalism,” reads a letter published on the IndieGoGo page. “Because no one can make enough money distributing the news they report, no one has enough money to report the news we need.”

BINJ, a “guerrilla newsroom that funds stories, pays journalists and partners with independent media outlets to distribute the work,” was launched in June 2015 with the goal of supporting the kind of community journalism that has been eroded by the continued demolition of the print advertising business. The organization regularly raises money to support independent journalism around Boston and, according to its Medium page, has published more than 40 features and 200 columns.

“BINJ addresses this problem by raising money to pay freelance journalists to investigate issues and institutions affecting the city and distributing the stories to already-existing independent outlets — at first, one story at a time and eventually, we hope, by funding entire beats and reporters,” Friday’s letter reads.

Baynard Woods, editorial director of the Baltimore affiliate of BINJ — which was founded Friday — told Poynter the crowdfunding effort is an outgrowth of the organization’s work in Boston, as well as a chance for Baltimoreans to support local journalism.

“Since the announcement several weeks ago that City Paper would close and The Marc Steiner Show was going off the air, we were trying to decide what to do next,” said Woods, who is also an editor at large for the City Paper and a syndicated columnist. “Everyone was asking, ‘How can we save these?’ The answer was: ‘Really, you can’t, unfortunately — they’re doomed as they are.’ But we may all together may be able to help journalism in the city.”

He said while the Baltimore-based group isn’t directly connected to BINJ, it “basically stole the model” from the nonprofit and borrowed its logos and promotional materials, all with the blessing of founder Chris Faraone. At the center of the organization’s strategy is to eliminate competition among alternative publications, instead encouraging them to work together to publish important stories.

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“The smaller players aren’t going to be competing — they’ll be collaborating,” Woods said. “The Baltimore Sun has great reporters who do great work, but they’re increasingly understaffed for an increasing problem. There’s so much to cover here.”

“No one has enough resources, time and money to cover these things … this is a way to try to fund those stories.”

The Baltimore BINJ partner is looking to fund several projects with the money raised through IndieGoGo — including a partnership with Writers in Baltimore Schools, an organization that runs literacy support groups in public schools, and an in-depth look at White supremacy in city law enforcement. Woods, who is partnering with City Paper Editor-in-Chief Brandon Soderberg on the project, said the group is already able to support a project with the money it raised on Friday alone. And since none of the affiliate’s part-time staff members are getting paid, all the cash will go to independent journalists, he said.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how much money the crowdfunding effort raises, Woods said.

“Even if we were only able to fund this one project, then the journalism world in Baltimore is better,” he said. “The point isn’t how much money we can raise.”

The Center for Emerging Media, a media production company operated by Steiner, is the group’s fiscal sponsor and acts as its financial agent, issuing checks and using its nonprofit status to ensure donations to the Baltimore BINJ partner are tax-deductible.

In the future, Woods said he thinks something will come along to replace the City Paper, whether that’s a podcast, website, zine or something else. What’s certain is that there’s a need to organize alternative journalists in Baltimore.

“I do think we’re in a moment of crisis where we realize the way alternative media has functioned for the last several decades really is a relic now, and it really has to function in a different way in order to survive,” Woods said. “I think this is the future for journalism in Baltimore.”

Here’s the entire letter published on the IndieGoGo page:

Baltimore is facing a crisis of journalism. Because no one can make enough money distributing the news they report, no one has enough money to report the news we need. And we live in what ex-newspaperman David Simon has called a “golden age of corruption.”

The Baltimore Institute for Nonprofit Journalism (BINJ) is a guerrilla newsroom raiding the ruins of corporate media and fixing Baltimore’s media desert.

BINJ was founded by Baynard Woods, Brandon Soderberg, and Marc Steiner in response to the dearth of progressive media in Baltimore following the end of The Marc Steiner Show on WEAA and the imminent closure of the Baltimore City Paper. BINJ addresses this problem by raising money to pay freelance journalists to investigate issues and institutions affecting the city and distributing the stories to already-existing independent outlets—at first, one story at a time and eventually, we hope, by funding entire beats and reporters.

Based on the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, BINJ Baltimore is a fast-moving nonprofit (operating under the fiscal sponsorship of the Center for Emerging Media). We don’t want to buy a building or rent an office or pay a big staff. All the money we raise—except processing fees and that sort of bullshit—goes to producing journalism. We’re looking to support the talent here that is overlooked, rejected or left undeveloped by the media landscape.

With the first $1,000 we raise, we will fund stories written by students working with Writers in Baltimore Schools. BINJ Baltimore is also funding a longform, multimedia feature story on street basketball, and an investigative feature on white supremacy and law enforcement.

The means of distribution (starting a new paper or radio show) can and should come later, but Baltimore needs stories that matter to its various communities, especially the underserved and underrepresented right now. By working with writers, photographers, videographers, and podcasters, BINJ Baltimore develops, assigns, and edits stories and then we partner with already existing independent media outlets to distribute the work.

BINJ just began Baltimore Binge, a brief, daily podcast that brings a mix of gallows humor and serious analysis to the often ridiculous and usually depressing Baltimore news cycle.

With our first $25,000, BINJ can hit the ground running and fund its first dozen or so projects. The more money we raise, the more projects we can fund.

But we don’t just want your money. We want your voices. We are aware of our own limitations and are building an advisory board to help us connect more broadly with more segments of the community. We’ll also be operating a series of “pop-up newsrooms” in Baltimore, setting up shop out in public, not to sell subscriptions or ask for money but to listen to what you have to say.

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Daniel Funke is a staff writer covering online misinformation for PolitiFact. He previously reported for Poynter as a fact-checking reporter and a Google News Lab…
Daniel Funke

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