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So Long, City Paper. Hello, Baltimore Beat.

There’s a changing of the guard in Baltimore’s alternative weekly scene.

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“Fin. Baltimore City Paper 1977-2017” the small headline announced on a front page depicting a single image: a smashed City Paper  box on a dirty sidewalk. Indeed, this was the last issue of an alternative weekly that for 40 years brought visibility to corrupt or inept government as well as to the arts scene. It had come to be known for, as the Washington Post recently put it, “dogged coverage of drug policy, civil unrest, police brutality, corruption and the persecution of disenfranchised communities, from trans sex workers to evicted artists to street rappers.” Its last years were spent diminished but defiant in the folds of Baltimore’s only general circulation daily, the Sun, whose parent company purchased City Paper – CP, to some – in 2014.

Eulogizing CP in the final edition, Baynard Woods, its editor-at-large and co-founder of the new Baltimore Institute for Nonprofit Journalism (BINJ), wrote:  “There is nothing else that captures the feeling of the city like an important investigative story crammed into the cheap newsprint next to an off-kilter art review and a voicey takedown of some pompous asshole or another.”

But even as the final edition was still making its way into the hands of readers who picked it up from boxes along certain streets, as well as in coffee houses, bars, restaurants, select apartment buildings and college hangouts, some CP alums and their new business partners were heralding the Nov. 15 debut of a new kid in town, Baltimore Beat, in print and digital formats.

“People keep asking me ‘Is this going to be City Paper 2.0?’ No, it’s not,” said Lisa Snowden-McCray, the new editor-in-chief who left her position as a community coordinator and editorial writer at the Sun a week before the announcement.

Lisa Snowden-McCray

Prior to the Sun she had worked at CP as an associate editor. “City Paper is dead,” she told MGJR. “This is a new thing, and I really want to make this a paper that reflects as much of the city as I can. The thing with journalism in general, and I see it in Baltimore, too, is that it looks very white.”

These changes in the alternative weekend landscape are occurring as one of the nation’s oldest black weekly newspapers, the Baltimore-based Afro-American, called The Afro, announced that it had sold its flagship building and planned to move to an office park on the outskirts of the city.

The rap against CP was that, no matter how earnest and committed to social justice its staff was, the paper was comprised mostly of a bunch of white folks with a mostly white readership in a majority-black city. Woods described the staff over the 40 years as typically the “grouchy white dudes” who defined the alternative weekly landscape across the country.

“I don’t think that’s what this city needs,” Woods told MGJR, adding that the Beat “is a real chance to reinvent the DNA of what alt weeklies can be.”

Seeing the handwriting on the wall, Woods left CP on a fulltime basis in 2015 and had been experimenting with alternatives, including penning “Democracy in Crisis,” a syndicated column for other alternative weeklies, and establishing BINJ with the intent of raising money to fund independent journalism projects. He also taught briefly in the School of Global Journalism and Communication at Morgan State University.

Baltimore Beat is owned by Brown Naff Pitts Omnimedia, which also publishes the oldest LGBTQ newspaper in the country, the Washington Blade. In addition to Snowden-McCray and Woods, Brandon Soderberg , CP’s editor-in-chief, will be managing editor and Jennifer Marsh, a former CP publisher, will be associate publisher.

Snowden-McCray and Woods emphasize that Baltimore Beat, which like CP will be free, will pursue collaborations with other media, starting with the Blade and The Real News Network (TRNN), a nonprofit video-based online news provider. Woods became editorial director at TRNN in October. Real News gets local cultural and political reporting from Beat staff; both would benefit from TRNN’s having a section in the print edition carrying its national and international coverage. In addition, TRNN would have access to the thousands of Baltimoreans who do not receive their news online, currently the only way to consume TRNN content. The Blade would provide immediate access to LGBTQ communities. In addition to that collaboration, Snowden-McCray and Woods say they want to work with other weeklies like the Afro (where Snowden-McCray got her start in journalism as a freelancer) and the Baltimore Brew, as well as provide at least a page of news in Spanish and in Korean, reflecting the diversity of Baltimore. The Beat will be housed in TRNN’s building at 231 Holliday Street, which is also home to the social justice think tank, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, and Ida B’s Table, a new restaurant named for Ida B. Wells, the crusading journalist of the early 20th century.

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