The Changing Face of Local News

Twenty-six years after the Baltimore-News American closed shop and 16 years after The Evening Sun followed suit, The Baltimore Sun is the only large-scale daily newspaper left in Maryland.

During its final days, The Evening Sun saw its circulation decrease by more than 70,000, leaving many people to wonder what caused this rapid decline.

Michael Olesker reflects on the closings of Baltimore newspapers. Olesker covered Baltimore news for over 25 years.

Baltimore Sun  columnist Kevin Cowherd, one of the few remaining holdovers left from the merger, said The Evening Sun was acknowledged by many as the stronger paper. He explained how losing many of those reporters during its closing was negative for the paper.

“The changes were profound,” Cowherd said. “Many jobs were eliminated, since there had been duplication of roles at both papers. With the Evening Sun closing, no longer was there a need for two movie critics, two book reviewers, two TV critics, two editorial cartoonists, a 60-person sports staff, etc.”

Members of the media attribute the closings of the Baltimore News-American and Evening Sun papers to everything from the rise of television to the emergence of social media.

“The Evening Sun closed because news media was changing,” said Deborah Lakowicz-Dramby, a former employee in the marketing department of The Baltimore Sun. “Very few people are looking at the newspaper for breaking news. They already saw that on television, on their homepage or newsfeed, or heard it on their drive home.”

Former Baltimore Sun reporter Frank Roylance alluded to a similar problem in a column he wrote about The Evening Sun’s final edition. Competition for readers’ evening hours, he said, became increasingly fierce as more people began working nine to five workdays and turned to evening television for their news.

“In effect, The Evening Sun became a late edition of the morning paper, and too much like it for readers who took both papers,” Roylance said. “Evening circulation went into a tailspin. Nearly 30,000 readers bailed out in the first year after the newsroom merger.”

The merger Roylance referenced took place in 1992 when the morning and evening newsrooms were combined. However The Evening Sun was already experiencing a downfall before the merger took place. The paper’s circulation went from 220,000 copies during the height of its success in the 1960’s to 156,000 in the year before the merger.

Michael Olesker, former columnist for both The Baltimore News-American and Evening Sun papers, believes that television is to blame for the decline of print journalism in Baltimore. In a book he wrote titled “Tonight at Six: A Daily Show Masquerading as Local TV News,” he explained how TV stations disguised themselves as an outlet for breaking news while in actuality, they were taking clips from newspapers to use on their nightly broadcasts.

“Television was seen as the future,” Olesker said. “TV stations convinced us we were getting all the necessary information from them. But where were they getting their content? They were getting it from the newspapers.”

Olesker added that there were only about 20 reporters at WJZ-TV and only a handful of stories were generated by the members of the TV station. With too few reporters to do the necessary digging for stories and facts, TV stations relied on other sources for their information. Readers began getting the same information, but not from the media members who did the hard work to produce the content.

When reached for comment, the members of the newsroom at WJZ-TV had no comment on the statements made by Olesker.

In a society where television and the internet were seizing the readership from newspapers, some papers had to take the fall. Olesker explained that The Baltimore News-American went first because of its reputation. The Baltimore Sun was more white-collar and could attract the necessary revenue to maintain its existence.

“The News-American was always living on the edge of a cliff,” Olesker said. “It was a working class newspaper. It gave jobs to younger people and second chances to writers.”

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