Abell Foundation: Waiting for a sustainable online journalism site to fund?
When you run in fast local media-gossip circles like I do (ha!), you can't resist the opportunity to ask a local power player whether his foundation is still interested in buying The Baltimore Sun.
Yesterday, I interviewed Robert C. Embry Jr. (left), president of the Abell Foundation, about the philanthropic institution's increasing emphasis on funding local technology startups. Abell has just committed $75,000 to a new group called the Innovation Alliance, which will use the funds to conduct a big survey of what the tech community wants and needs.
Toward the end of my interview with Mr. Embry, I asked if Abell still has any interest in buying the Baltimore Sun. (Abell was reportedly part of a team of local investors, led by Ted Venetoulis, who had floated the idea of buying the Sun about five/six years ago.)
Embry told me that the Tribune bankruptcy (Chicago-based Tribune Co. owns the Baltimore Sun, as well as the Chicago Tribune, LA Times and other papers) muddled the prospects for an acquisition several years ago. Indeed, bankruptcy is a sort of limbo for companies in most cases.
If and when Tribune emerges from bankruptcy, Embry said, "then we would re-open the question."
I also asked Embry if Abell, which has funded high-tech energy and biotech companies lately, has any interest in funding new online journalism startups?
Said Embry: "We've spent a lot of time considering that. A lot of people have approached us with ideas, but we haven't been presented with any that are self-sustaining."
I don't know what Maryland-based online news sites have presented themselves to the Abell Foundation for funding, but I can rattle off a bunch off the top of my head that are a steady part of my local media diet.
There's Baltimore Brew (which did a fantastic job raising $24,624 on Kickstarter -- well over their $15,000 goal.)
There's CityBizList, for Baltimore area business.
And MarylandReporter.com, for state house politics news.
Are these sites "sustainable"? I don't know. At this point, they seem to have had some longevity. They are veterans, in terms of online years. That counts for something.
In fact, in addition to the Sun, which still dominates, there's still a healthy selection of print and online sources of good journalism and opinion-ating around Baltimore, and a little beyond. There's CityPaper, the Daily Record, Caroll County Times, Urbanite, the Patuxent publications, the Gazette, the Washington Post, and Center Maryland. (Update: Yes, I'm sorry, I forgot to mention the Patch sites.)
The not-so-hidden players in the local media scene anymore are Twitter and Facebook. The public has more power than ever before to push stories to the top of a traditional reporter's agenda. And the public can respond to a story -- and the newsmakers behind it -- with online persistence and inquisitiveness.
In the old days, journalists would work hard to find new angles and keep a good story alive every day. (We still do.) Today, the public does the same thing on Facebook and Twitter, if the story means enough to them (us).
Just yesterday, I watched as a story I wrote about the Abell Foundation and the Innovation Alliance immediately got some push-back in the comments section of the Baltimore Tech Facebook group.
Within a couple hours of posting the story, Newt Fowler, head of the Innovation Alliance, was immediately responding to questions from the tech community.
This is truly a revolution in news, information-sharing and accountability.
Sure, we lost the Examiner a few years back, but we've actually seen the remaining publications -- and new ones, including us at The Baltimore Sun -- start to adjust to the online world.
Anybody can make and break news, and anybody can immediately question the newsmakers -- and the news writers. This rocks.
This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech