An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Here's why the 'Baltimore Beat' relaunched as a Black-led, nonprofit publication


Alternative weekly newspapers are known for holding their city's institutional powers accountable, from government to the other media in town. In Baltimore, the City Paper circulated for four decades, and that alt weekly story ended like so many others - shuttered. The Baltimore Beat stepped in to fill the void, but roughly four months later, it shuttered, too. And ever since, journalists have been working to revive it. And this week that happened. The Baltimore Beat is back, now as a nonprofit, Black-led biweekly publication available online or in print, all free of charge. Lisa Snowden is the editor-in-chief of The Baltimore Beat, and she joins us now to discuss. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, Lisa, and congratulations.

LISA SNOWDEN: Hi. Thank you so much.

SUMMERS: So, Lisa, this is a publication that is launching in Baltimore, a city that is more than 60% African American. And The Baltimore Beat is not the only Black-led publication or news organization focused on Black audiences. Why does that diversity of options in a city like Baltimore matter so much?

SNOWDEN: Well, I think there's a few reasons. No. 1, we're not a monolith. I think that there are ways that The Afro, which has been around for over 100 years, meets Baltimore's needs. There's The Baltimore Times that does that also. But I think that we can find a particular lane with The Baltimore Beat. We have City Paper in our DNA. So I think that our lane is not at all to try to replace a 100-plus-year-old paper. Our lane is to figure out how to hold government accountable and do the things that we can do, provide deep arts coverage in the way that we can do it. I think Black people deserve a multitude of media outlets. We're just trying to help contribute to that.

SUMMERS: I want to quote from part of The Beat's statement of values. "We do not believe there is a difference between arts coverage and hard news and understand that art is inherently political." Why did you feel the need to spell that out so plainly and make that distinction?

SNOWDEN: I think that draws on our alt weekly roots - that this would not be a place where you would maybe just find big-name stars. Maybe you'd find people having shows in alleys or, you know, the cellars of buildings. And both of those are important - and also that art is a thing that happens just like, quote-unquote, "the news."

SUMMERS: Another thing that you talked about in that value statement is the fact that you all want to focus on the joy of being a Baltimorean. So, Lisa, I want to ask you, what does that mean for you?

SNOWDEN: It's a place that you have to have a sense of humor in. People here are so blunt and also so real. And I feel like that's lost so much in the conversations about the city. We hear sometimes some very horrible, racist things about the violence that happens here. And maybe we hear about "The Wire," but there's so much else that isn't talked about. And we just want to give space for that.

SUMMERS: In an earlier interview, one of your colleagues told Baltimore Magazine that some newspaper distribution boxes may eventually serve as community exchange boxes so that people can take what they need and leave what they can, get things like gloves and hats in the winter. What's your thinking there?

SNOWDEN: So not only is there access in our boxes for information, the things that we're writing and printing, but just, like, a very easy way to contribute to the community so that people can put water bottles in there, books in there. We have one already out on the streets, and it has Narcan in there. And I think, you know, as people are still suffering from the economic impact of the pandemic, people are going to need that kind of thing, like, more than ever.

SUMMERS: You have described The Beat elsewhere as a teaching newsroom. What does that mean, and why does that matter?

SNOWDEN: Journalism is not a career where you're going to make a lot of money. It's worse if you're Black. And not only that, but if you're Black, you're often the only Black person or maybe one or two or three others in the newsroom. And that can be a very distinct struggle. And so we really wanted The Beat to be a place where Black journalists can get an education, can stay here if they would like to make a life in Baltimore or get their clips and maybe move somewhere else. I think that was very important to be intentional about that. Baltimore has Morgan State University, which is a historically Black college, right here. And so it's like, I want those people that come to this community to stay here because we need their voices.

SUMMERS: Lisa Snowden is the editor-in-chief of The Baltimore Beat, which relaunched this week. Lisa, thank you so much for being here.

SNOWDEN: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.