ANNUAL ANNIVERSARY ARTICLE:|
What this Paper Has Seen
In a Quarter-Century
A Staff Reminiscence
This month begins the 25th anniversary year of The Baltimore Chronicle. Founded as The City Dweller by Larry Krause in April, 1973, the paper has always been a monthly, for reasons that will become clear as this article progresses.
In that first issue, Mr. Krause, commenting on the discredited Nixon administration, observed, "These are jumpy times."
He feels that expression aptly fits the last 25 years-for the Chronicle, the City of Baltimore, and the United States. "It's been a roller-coaster ride, full of ups and downs," he says.
The Nixon years were definitely "down" for America. Nixon widened the war in Viet Nam. Because he didn't want to be the first President to lose a war, thousands more U.S. soldiers died and many thousands more were wounded and disabled, not counting the horrible carnage in Asia.
One Nixon disgrace led to another, culminating in Watergate. Nixon resigned rather than be impeached. Fortunately Maryland's own-Vice President Spiro T. Agnew-resigned first to avoid tax fraud and bribery charges from when he was Maryland's Governor. Gerald Ford's time in office was a relatively benign interlude.
During those years, many Baltimoreans complained that there was little to do here, socially or culturally. Urban decay was increasingly evident.
By the mid-1970s, with the gung-ho Schaefer administration in charge of the city, change for the better began. Center Stage seemed well established. Numerous new restaurants opened in and around downtown. Theatre Project brought innovative experimental theater to the city. The Read Street and Mount Vernon areas flourished. And the promising development of the inner harbor area was beginning. The City Fair was wildly successful, and ethnic fairs and festivals abounded. Mayor Schaefer told us, and all of America, that Baltimore was a great city. We listened, and came to believe.
When Jimmy Carter became President, he pumped billions of federal dollars into the cities. Baltimore's renaissance flourished.
Carter brought to the White House a high moral tone, and Americans were beginning to feel as though they could trust their President. We at the Chronicle, always struggling, began to dare to hope that our newspaper could become financially successful.
But these were jumpy times. This seeming-to-care, pro-city President was defeated by the silky-talking former B-grade movie actor Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election. (Remember "the hostage situation" that probably cost Carter re-election?)
In the ensuing eight years, America witnessed corporate lawbreaking on a scale never before seen. The Reagan administration not only assaulted the environment but also failed to enforce laws designed to protect workers. The working poor-of which Baltimore had plenty-were especially hard-hit by Reagan budget cuts, and their lower spending power further hurt declining community shopping districts.
The pattern of ignoring the law extended to the White House's violation of the Boland Amendment in order to wage the Reagan-backed surrogate war against the people of Nicaragua.
Reagan's presidency was in fact characterized by a continuous effort to dismantle the federal government. It was not to be a tool to benefit its citizens; it was to become the aider and abettor of the Robber Barons, as it was in the last years of the 1800s. Ronald Reagan and his ilk just about bankrupted America by spending trillions of borrowed dollars on quickly-obsolete weapons with which to threaten the Soviet Union. In turn, the U.S.S.R. bankrupted itself to compete with us, and finally imploded. The Cold War was over. Citizens hoping for a "peace dividend"-federal funds diverted from defense to domestic spending-have been sorely disappointed ever since.
Also during the Reagan era, whining savings & loans were thrown the bone of federal deregulation and went wild with get-rich-quick schemes at enormous taxpayer expense ($500 billion and counting...). It should come as no surprise that the same myopic legislators who approved the military build-up and the S&L deregulation are now calling for a "balanced budget" and blame the poor for the fiscal mess we are in.
The Reagan years were worse than "down" times; they were the slough of despond. Yet despite all the devastation Reagan's policies visited on our city and others, Baltimore pulled through, reduced in size but still retaining momentum, thanks in large part to increasing state aid. The Inner Harbor became more developed; the Baltimore Symphony joined the top ranks; numerous always-struggling but determined local theaters opened their doors.
There was much to do in Baltimore. The Sowebo Festival, the Arts and Peace Festival, ArtScape, and the by-now well-established ethnic festivals provided welcome opportunities for outdoor fun with everybody welcome. But the potential advertising base for community newspapers was by now hanging by a thread.
The late 1980s and now the 1990s have been less jumpy and trying. True, President Bush engaged America in a peculiar war against Iraq, and invaded Panama on a flimsy pretext; and some of his Supreme Court Justice nominations were a slap in the face to Americans (not to mention Bush's choice of Dan Quayle as his running mate). But by and large, the Bush years were comparatively bland.
Under Bill Clinton we are enduring more of the same. The federal government continues to be dismantled, and the city's economy remains fragile at best. Corporate America still reigns supreme. And although the Cold War is presumably over, America does not spend any less on defense than it did under Reagan.
Like the city that bred this newspaper, the Baltimore Chronicle has endured and matured, if not prospered. We have struggled to remain resolutely independent and outspoken, while serving all potential readers-regardless of financial, racial, age, or ethnic status.
We believe the strength of a democratic society is a free press that serves all. This runs totally counter to current trends in the mass media, where segmenting the market for demographic purposes is what advertisers (who are king of the roost for everybody) generally want.
It has long been clear to the editors that this newspaper alone could not begin to report and assess all the information historians might someday need to know about Baltimore. During the late 1970's, we organized and helped edit a book, Baltimore: A Living Renaissance, which can be found in local libraries. It contains articles by many of Baltimore's leading journalists and writers, and provides interesting perspectives and viewpoints. For nine years, we published The Baltimore Review, an annual magazine, stopping in 1991 when the economic downturn and major paper price increases made continuing impossible. Another publishing venture that began in our offices was Aura of the Arts, which for many years brought together the area's arts and crafts community.
In 1989, we were involved in founding the nonprofit Baltimore News Network, Inc. (BNN) in order to disseminate in other forms. BNN operates a used book store at 10 West 25th Street, holds discussion sessions on books and movies, and sponsors public forums on issues. It also publishes The Sentinel, which is an insert in the Chronicle. The Sentinel is able to gain permission to reprint articles that otherwise would not be available to most Baltimoreans.
As we enter our 25th year, we look back on many adventures, frustrations, and challenges. We are often asked if the fiscal and personal sacrifices have been worth it.
Most days, we'd say yes. But as we enter mid-life, we are keeping an eye out for eager and able young people who might want to shoulder this responsibility with us and keep on manufacturing this journalistic equivalent of the buggy whip.
Meanwhile, the Chronicle and the Sentinel have moved onto the world wide web, where we appear in full color (!), maintain an archive of important articles-and, most importantly, avoid paying printing bills! We are reaching many thousands of additional readers all over the globe. But like most newspapers, we still haven't figured out how to make this electronic journalistic initiative pay off.
Fiscally, that is.
In every other way, publishing without fear or favor, telling the public what we feel it needs to know -- these have been cherished responsibilities, and represent an enduring payoff.
We thank our wonderful writers, interns (over 100 to date), subscribers and advertisers for being our essential partners in making this newspaper's publication possible.
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This story was published on April 2, 1997.