Many happy returns, Baltimore Sun
In the spring of 1837, the elderly William IV was in failing health, about to be succeeded by the eighteen-year-old Victoria. The United States was undergoing one of its periodic financial crises, with the Panic of 1837, which began on May 10, touching off a five-year depression. And a week after the panic began, on May 17, a young printer named A.S. Abell and his partners established a newspaper in Baltimore, The Sun.*
Sumner Redstone, the eighty-six-year-old chairman of Viacom, predicted recently that there “won’t be any newspapers in two years,” to which someone tartly predicted that newspapers are still likely to be around longer than Sumner Redstone.
I’m no haruspex,** so you won’t get predictions about the future of newspapers and journalism from this quarter. That The Baltimore Sun has been a going concern for 173 years is no guarantee of its continuance. Nostalgia is not a business model. That the company now calling itself the Baltimore Sun Media Group actively pursues journalism and revenue electronically as well as in print does not guarantee continued success. No one appears to have figured out how to do that.
What I do know — and this has been amply confirmed in the two weeks since my return to Calvert Street — is that my colleagues are working as hard as they know how to gather and present accurate information to you in both print and electronic forms. After the painful contraction of the past couple of years, The Sun has cautiously expanded, adding sections on business, art, and entertainment. Presumably there will be additional efforts at expansion if revenues continue to improve. We want to do more, and do it better.
So we’re not dead yet. Far from it. Those of you who would pronounce mournful eulogies over The Sun (as well as those who would gladly dance a jig on its grave) can put away the black crape. Today is a birthday, not a funeral.
*The depression of the late 1830s was hardly the only rough patch the paper has negotiated. During the Civil War Mr. Abell had to be circumspect in what he published, lest the Federal authorities chuck him into the penitentiary along with other Marylanders thought to be overly sympathetic to secession.
**All right, all right. Haruspication is the practice of divination by inspecting the entrails of animals; the haruspex was the Roman soothsayer who presided at this ritual.