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Media & Technologyby Fern Shen3:11 pmJun 10, 20240

Baltimore Sun staffers protest after new owners begin publishing Fox45 stories in the newspaper

A Baltimore Sun Guild statement calls references to “illegal immigrants” and an Armstrong Williams column denouncing “the transgender movement” discriminatory and contrary to industry standards

Above: A June 3 article published under a Fox45 reporter’s byline appears in the Baltimore Sun.

Since the purchase five months ago of the Baltimore Sun by conservative broadcast mogul David D. Smith, staffers have been watching for changes, bristling at some (the rightward tilt of the op-ed pages) and eye-rolling at others (the paper now carries an “Ask the Vet” column by Smith’s veterinarian daughter, Devon Smith).

But the Baltimore Sun Guild, which represents staffers, is now speaking out after articles from Smith’s Sinclair Broadcast Group and its Baltimore television station Fox45 – heretofore a competitor – have started appearing in The Sun.

One of these, published on June 3, made multiple references to “illegal immigrants,” a term that is not used in The Sun and is not considered “best practices” by the Associated Press because it essentially labels people as “illegal.”

(The language was changed in the Sun story, but remains intact in the version of the story published on the Fox45 website.)

In a related development, according to a source with knowledge of the matter, two reporters today took their bylines off a story about a 16-year-old girl shot in the wrist in Fells Point early Saturday after quotes, links and reporting attributed to Fox45 were added to the piece without their knowledge.

“To see material like this appearing without warning, material that doesn’t meet our ethical standards that we work so hard to uphold, published next to our names – that was very concerning,” said Christine Condon, co-chair of the Baltimore Sun Guild, in an interview with The Brew.

In a statement released today, the union called on management to stop the sharing of articles, photos, videos and social media content from Fox45 and Sinclair until a meeting can be held with staff members to address their concerns and “explain the long-term strategy for the paper and any agreements with Fox45 or Sinclair.”

Baltimore Sun publisher and editor-in-chief Trif Alatzas has not responded to a request from The Brew for comment.

UPDATE: After publication, Baltimore Sun co-owner Armstrong Williams sent this response:

“I deeply respect the opinions of the Baltimore Sun Guild. I do not impugn their motives. We have common ground in appreciating the value of diversity of viewpoints. I assume the Guild reciprocally appreciates legitimate managerial prerogatives in the journalistic enterprise. Constructive criticism is always welcome even if ultimately found unpersuasive.”

“Standards tossed aside”

Staffers have given the new owners latitude as changes have appeared on the opinion pages – chief among them the columns by Smith’s co-owner, conservative columnist Armstrong Williams.

But the Guild statement said a May 8 column by Williams was another instance in which the Sun’s ethical standards were “tossed aside under new ownership.”

Condon said Williams “crossed a line” in “The Rise of Transgenderism” in which he described “the transgender movement” as “a cancer,” and used the terms “biological male” and “biological female” to exclude transgender people, terminology that AP style also instructs journalists to avoid.

“This is not about political affiliation – there needs to be a diversity of opinion on op-ed pages,” said  Condon, who covers the environment for The Sun.

“But that doesn’t mean those pages are a place to say discriminatory or inaccurate things,” Condon said. “We are concerned Armstrong is not being held to the same industry standards we are.”

Shortly after the piece was published last month, staffers wrote a letter complaining about it to management but did not receive a satisfactory response, Condon said.

On the Sun’s web page, Williams’ columns are published under the heading “Staff Commentary,” giving the impression, according to Condon, that they reflect the views of the editorial board.

Management Changes

The turmoil at the Sun comes as the Guild is poised to begin a round of contract negotiations, its first with the new owner, and as the paper announces a number of high-level management changes.

Longtime managing editor Sam Davis, the first Black managing editor of the Sun, recently announced he is retiring and will be replaced by Tricia Bishop, director of opinion and features.

Also recently announced was the hiring of Brooke Conrad from the national office of Sinclair Broadcast Group.

Staffers are waiting to see what role Conrad will play after management released a broad description of her new position at the paper:

Conrad, the announcement said, will be a regional multimedia editor and will “edit, report and write from a regional perspective on various topics, including local government, crime and education.”

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