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Media Circus

Off to the Races

Steve Barret
NO CALLS: Sheilah Kast

By Gadi Dechter | Posted 2/1/2006

An equine herpes outbreak may have temporarily stalled the action at Pimlico and Laurel, but there were healthy signs last week of an emerging newspaper turf war in what has long been a one-horse town.

The Sun has expanded its Maryland section by about one-third, adding distinct Baltimore County and state government pages, partly in response to the anticipated April 5 launch of the free daily tabloid Baltimore Examiner.

“It’s clear that we have competition,” national editor Mike Leary says. “In Anne Arundel and Howard [counties], where we’ve also added a little news space, we’re competing directly with The Washington Post, and come April we expect to see some competition from the Examiner.”

Meanwhile, the Examiner, which recently signed a 10-year lease at 400 E. Pratt St., continues to fill out its editorial stable, tapping Washington Examiner Maryland editor Timothy W. Maier for the managing editor position, says Sibyl Masquelier, the newspaper’s recruiter.

Both the D.C. and Baltimore Examiners are owned by Denver billionaire Philip F. Anschutz’s Clarity Media Group Inc., which also publishes the free San Francisco Examiner.

Maier declined to confirm an impending move to Mobtown. “I’m not at liberty to discuss that, yet,” he says. Examiner publisher Michael Phelps confirms that he has “made an offer” to a managing editor, but says it is against company policy to discuss personnel matters before making formal announcements. “I’ll announce it when I’m ready,” he says.

If hired, Maier would join recently saddled editor Frank Keegan, former editor of the Bridgeport, Conn.-based Connecticut Post, and marketing vice president Annie Hager, formerly an advertising director at The Sun.

Masquelier tells Media Circus she’s actively recruiting for 12 reporters, as well as several editors and copy editors. “We’re hiring more than that,” Phelps says, but would he say how many more? Neigh.

Hitting You Where You Live

Phelps may be tight-lipped about “proprietary” information, but the former vice president at newspaper chain Lee Enterprises did, during an earlier interview, share his editorial vision and business strategy for the upstart Examiner.

“The traditional newspaper model is, you go to advertisers and say, ‘Here we are,’” Phelps said. “We reversed the model and said [to advertisers]: ‘Who do you want to reach?’”

That survey helped the Examiner decide to target its 250,000-circulation delivery to single-family homes with a median income of $73,000, whose adult inhabitants are between 25 and 54. For prospective readers not in that demographic sweet spot (i.e., most city residents), the Examiner will also distribute about 14,000 copies in 2,000 “strategically placed” indoor and outdoor racks, Phelps said.

As with its Washington counterpart, Baltimore Examiner news stories will be short, about 300 words, with no “page jumps,” so that the paper can be read consecutively, with a minimum of page turning. The entire tabloid will be readable in about 20 minutes, Phelps said.

The publisher also promises a newspaper that will be “intensely, unabashedly, and parochially local,” one that is aggressive about scooping The Sun and other local media. “I believe in breaking news, scoring beats,” Phelps said. “I’m determined not to feed people all the news they saw on TV the night before or found at their favorite web site this morning. I’ll be looking for exclusive local news. Every time I’m not exclusive, I’ll be disappointed.”

One significant area of distinction from The Sun may be the Examiner’s business coverage, Phelps said, declaring, “This daily newspaper will be joined with the business community at the hip.” While not necessarily predisposed to friendly business coverage, neither will The X (might as well start floating nicknames now) be a priori suspicious of business motives. “There are many in the newspaper business who start out their coverage of business assuming they’re on the hunt for criminality,” Phelps said. “I think that’s very shortsighted.”

Phelps predicts his opinion pages will be perceived as more conservative than The Sun’s, though he prefers the label “common-sense centrist.”

It’s Just Lunch

The Examiner isn’t the only print shop in town that’s hiring, of course. The Sun is also looking to fill the high-profile metro columnist slot recently vacated by Michael Olesker.

Naturally, then, the Calvert Street newsroom was curious when word got out that four presumably time-pressed editors—top editor Tim Franklin, managing editor Robert Blau, deputy managing editor for news Sandy Banisky, and Mike Leary—had all convened in faraway Towson last week for a tête-à-tête at Café Troia with Black Hawk Down author and screenwriter Mark Bowden, to talk about the columnist position.

Bowden is not only a 24-year Philadelphia Inquirer veteran, best-selling author, and regular contributor to the Atlantic Monthly and New Yorker magazines, but he also grew up in Timonium and was a News-American reporter (where he worked alongside Olesker). Was The Sun trying to lure the Oxford, Pa., resident back to Baltimore?

“I don’t think it was ever framed in those exact terms,” Leary says.

Is Bowden interested in the job?

“Mark is a very busy guy.”

Indeed, too busy to return phone calls from this column. In any event, the job is still available, according to Leary, who says he’s currently soliciting applications from both within and outside the newspaper.

According to Leary, interested candidates would do well to model themselves after Los Angeles Times metro columnist Steve Lopez.


Public radio station WYPR (88.1 FM) is developing a current affairs talk show to be hosted by former ABC-TV and National Public Radio reporter Sheilah Kast. Broadcast daily at 9 a.m., the one-hour program will replace the third repeat of the first hour of National Public Radio’s Morning Edition.

Kast says the program’s launch date and format are still up in the air, though, unlike the afternoon Marc Steiner Show, the new morning program won’t include listener calls and will address several topics during the single hour.

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