Though The Baltimore Sun has seemed as if it was on its last legs for years now, but few media outlets have tried to take the Sun's place where it matters most: old-fashioned beat reporting. But since February, the Baltimore Brew, helmed by former Washington Post reporter Fern Shen, has scooped up some of the Sun's best reporters, along with other local bloggers, and started reporting news that The Sun and other media outlets are no longer willing or able to cover.
"There's so much out there," Shen says by phone from her North Baltimore home, turning to a series of articles on pollution in the Chesapeake Bay done by herself and Mark Reutter. "I've been thinking about the pieces we've been doing at Sparrows Point. At another time, there would have been some person out there [at community meetings] from The Sun with a notebook. No one was there. It brought home to me how much need there is for coverage."
Unlike other news sites, Shen hasn't embraced the slap-dash style often seen in blogs. Instead, the articles are as closely reported and edited as print pieces, meaning that the Brew makes up in quality for what it loses in quantity.
"There's so much to do to get out what's fairly simple-seeming posts," she says. "I'm still using newspaper standards in a blog format, so that's making for a very demanding work day."
Shen's high standards have meant that she has been able to attract some of the best Sun reporters to write for the Brew, even though many of them are available only because there are so many out-of-work journalists in the city. For readers, it means that writers such as Melody Simmons, Heather DeWar, and Ann LoLordo are contributing to the site on a regular basis.
"The folks that used to do things for a paycheck are now doing them for cheap or for free," she says. "Reporters do what they want to do. They care about the news. I'm really lucky that that's the case."
While the Brew is only updated a few times a week now, Shen plans to completely overhaul the site, making it easier to search for stories and adding neighborhood-based reporters who will aggregate the dozens of small blogs in the city to make it easier for readers to keep up with what's being talked about in the Baltimore blogosphere.
Shen says deciding everything about the site--from its content to its business strategy--is a challenge. "You have to set your own standards for what you want to produce," she says. "In the old days, it was relatively easy. Now, there's a lot to figure out on your own."