Lisa Snowden, editor of the Beat of Baltimoretalks about the return of the black-run nonprofit newspaper.
JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:
Alternative weeklies are notorious for holding their city’s institutional powers to account, from the government to other city media outlets. In Baltimore, the City Paper circulated for four decades, and this alternative weekly story ended like so many others – shut down. The Baltimore Beat stepped in to fill the void, but about four months later it too closed. And since then, journalists have been busy bringing it back to life. And this week, it happened. The Baltimore Beat is back, now as a black-led, nonprofit, bi-weekly publication available online or in print, all for free. Lisa Snowden is the editor of The Baltimore Beat, and she joins us now for a chat. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, Lisa, and congratulations.
LISA SNOWDEN: Hello. Thanks a lot.
SUMMERS: So, Lisa, this is a publication that’s started in Baltimore, a city that’s over 60% African American. And The Baltimore Beat isn’t the only black-run publication or news organization focused on black audiences. Why is this diversity of options in a city like Baltimore so important?
SNOWDEN: Well, I think there are several reasons. No. 1, we are not a monolith. I think The Afro, which has been around for over 100 years, meets the needs of Baltimore. There’s the Baltimore Times that does that too. But I think we can find a particular path with The Baltimore Beat. We have City Paper in our DNA. So I think our path is not at all to try to replace a newspaper that is over 100 years old. Our path is to figure out how to hold government accountable and do the things we can do, provide in-depth artistic coverage of how we can do it. I think black people deserve a multitude of media. We’re just trying to help contribute to that.
SUMMERS: I want to quote part of The Beat’s values statement. “We don’t 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 it out so clearly and make that distinction?
SNOWDEN: I think it draws from our alt-weekly roots — that it wouldn’t be a place where you might just find big-name stars. Maybe you’d find people performing in the alleys or, you know, in the basements of buildings. And both are important – and also that art is a happening thing like, in quotes, “the news”.
SUMMERS: Another thing you talked about in that values statement is that you all want to focus on the joy of being a Baltimorean. So, Lisa, I want to ask you, what does this mean to you?
SNOWDEN: It’s a place where you have to have a sense of humor. The people here are so direct and also so real. And I feel like it’s so lost in the conversations about the city. We sometimes hear very horrible and racist things about the violence that happens here. And maybe we hear about “The Wire”, but there are so many other things that we don’t talk about. And we just want to give space for that.
SUMMERS: In a previous interview, one of your colleagues told Baltimore Magazine that some newspaper distribution boxes could potentially serve as community swap boxes so people can take what they need and leave what’s. they can, get things like gloves and hats in the winter. What are you thinking there?
SNOWDEN: So not only is there access in our boxes to information, to things that we write and print, but just, like, a really easy way to contribute to the community so people can put bottles of water, books in there. We already have one on the streets, and it’s got Narcan in it. And I think, you know, as people are still suffering from the economic impact of the pandemic, people are going to need this kind of thing, like, more than ever.
SUMMERS: You’ve described The Beat elsewhere as an instructional newsroom. What does this mean, and why is it important?
SNOWDEN: Journalism is not a career where you are 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 could get an education, could stay here if they wanted to make a living in Baltimore or get their music videos and maybe move somewhere else. I think it was very important to be intentional about it. Baltimore has Morgan State University, which is a historically black university, right here. And so it’s like, I want these people who come to this community to stay here because we need their voices.
SUMMERS: Lisa Snowden is the editor of The Baltimore Beat, which relaunched this week. Lisa, thank you so much for being here.
SNOWDEN: Thank you very much for inviting me.
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