2013 Best of Baltimore: News

Best blogs, reporters and more

By Ron Cassie with Andrew Zaleski - August 2013

2013 Best of Baltimore: News

Best blogs, reporters and more

By Ron Cassie with Andrew Zaleski - August 2013

WBAL weekend anchor and I-Team member, Deborah Weiner -Photo by Sam Holden

Citizen Crime Blog

Baltimore Crime

Marcie Jones Brennan started Baltimore Crime, which tracks breaking news and criminal-justice issues, after a possible murder near her Hampden house went unreported. Initially intended for friends and neighbors, it remains a go-to site for crime coverage, somehow winding a (sharply tongued) narrative thread through it all. The blog’s Facebook group is chock full of web, print, TV, and radio journos, as well as officials such as city State’s Attorney Greg Bernstein. baltimorecrime.blogspot.com.

County Reporter

Bryan Sears

His outlet, Patch.com, may or may not be here to stay. But there isn’t another reporter covering Baltimore County who has Bryan Sears’s insider knowledge of the County Council and county government. After years with Patuxent Publishing, the life-long county resident left for Patch (the AOL-owned web of county news sites) in 2010, and he’s been breaking local news ever since. It was Sears, who also serves as regular political commentator on local radio, who reported this summer that Dundalk Councilman John Olszewski Sr. failed to disclose his employment with a local contractor, per county ethics rules, for two years. “I appreciate you bringing it to my attention,” Olszewski told Sears.

Crime Reporter

Justin Fenton

Baltimore City’s 100th homicide happened in June and was recorded in a tweet by Justin Fenton, lead crime reporter for The Baltimore Sun (and multiple Best-of honoree). It’s not surprising, given that Fenton—in addition to his numerous, comprehensive stories covering crime for the print newspaper—has posted some 20,000-plus tweets and earned 11,000 followers. While social media is often a playground of babble, Fenton has developed it into a savvy, professional, and empathetic reporting tool. He gives us the news, sure, but also shares bits of information about the city’s murder victims, reminding us that our fallen citizens are more than just numbers on a police report.


The Sun on Baltimore City Speed Cameras

Those who’ve been wrongfully tagged by one of the city’s more than 80 speed cameras owe a small debt to The Baltimore Sun reporters Scott Calvert and Luke Broadwater. Since last November, the pair has been shedding light on Baltimore’s mutinous speed cameras, chronicling the stories of responsible drivers mailed erroneous tickets. Their multiple-month investigation persuaded the city to replace the old cameras with upgraded models, but even that wasn’t enough—as of April, all speed cameras keeping watch over city streets have been shut down. The entire program was suspended after fresh reports surfaced of tickets issued to drivers who, you guessed it, weren’t speeding. Print journalism and shoe-leather reporting today might be dragging some, but it ain’t dead yet.

Fake Twitter Account

Not Buck Showalter

It’s hard to describe this Twitter handle. Just go to Twitter and follow this guy. Whomever he (or she) is. He’s certainly not Buck, though. He’s also not the anti-Buck, but rather an awesomely deranged alter-ego of the Orioles’ generally level-headed manager. “Not Buck’s” play-by-play and side comments—full of encyclopedic baseball factoids—range from completely off-the-wall to 140-character mocking satire to brilliantly off-color cracks. Sample Tweet from the series with the Astros: “Remember when Houston’s stadium was called Enron Field?? LOL, how’d that work out??” And, maybe our favorite: “What a game/night . . . Woke up with my pants off in a ditch. What?” @NotShowalter.

Geek Speak

Technical.ly Baltimore

Started in 2012, Technical.ly Baltimore is a daily online news site that covers, in general, how technology is making Baltimore a better place. Baltimore is certainly not Silicon Valley, but it’s not just mobile advertising giant Millennial Media either. Technical.ly Baltimore did a five-part series on the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA, which privacy and civil-liberties groups have railed against for some time. They also did a two-part piece on Western High School’s RoboDoves, the all-female robotics team that competed in the world robotics championships in April. technical.ly/Baltimore

Investigative Series

WBFF on Digicon

Fox-affiliate WBFF won nine regional Emmy’s this year—tops in the market—including best investigative series honors for reporter Melinda Roeder and producer Stephen Janis for their work on City Hall’s “disconnect” over phone contracts. Fox broke the news that city Technology Office Chief of Staff Damien Sharp failed to disclose on ethics forms—as required by law—that he’d been previously employed by Digicon, which had received a no-bid contract from the Mayor’s office. Sharp was forced to resign. His predecessor, former tech chief Rico Singleton, was similarly forced to resign after a scandal with Singleton’s previous employer, the state of New York, came to light.

Liquor Beat

Booze News

A new Community Law Center blog, the Booze News, covers the under-reported happenings of the Baltimore City Liquor Board—for example, the granting of a liquor license for Baltimore’s coming casino without proper documentation. Weekly posts are written by Law Center attorney Christina Schoppert Devereux and also posted on the Baltimore Brew’s homepage with additional commentary. For years, the Law Center has been representing neighborhoods in hearings at the Liquor Board, which received a scathing audit this spring from the General Assembly’s legislative services arm. The report found, for example, that 202 licensees received no inspections at all in the past year. Something tells us they’ll be more diligent now.

Media Maven

Z on TV

The Baltimore Sun’s lost a lot of talent, but thankfully not David Zurawik. “Z” covers media in way that is both meaningful and a good read. Armed with a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Maryland, Zurawik thoughtfully examines the narratives that shape news coverage. He’s been a panelist on CNN’s Sunday talk show, Reliable Sources, for years. He’s also been heard on WYPR since 1994 on Thursday mornings. Whether discussing coverage of the NSA leak scandal and Edward Snowden, MASN’s Orioles broadcasts, the death of James Gandolfini, or the way Netflix is changing television with shows such as House of Cards, Zurawik remains a rare journalist whose work is compelling across print, social media, TV, and radio.

Radio: Old School

WEAA's The Marc Steiner Show

This year marks the 20th anniversary of The Marc Steiner Show, a remarkable achievement in a fickle industry. Steiner has mastered nonprofit media with his Center for Emerging Media, allowing him to pursue in-depth journalism.

Radio: New School

The City that Breeds Podcast

Like the blog, which epitomizes snark, the podcast is more than frivolity. It’s serious Baltimore news cracked open with a six-pack of Natty Boh, which gives Evan and co-host Dennis the Cynic room to tell it like it is.

TV Journalist

Deborah Weiner

The WBAL weekend anchor and I-Team member possesses that rare combination of professionalism, versatility, and institutional knowledge of Baltimore and its culture. Weiner grew up here and eventually returned after earning her master’s degree from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Nominated for a regional Emmy this year for her work exposing a Timonium “pill mill,” she won an Emmy for her overall writing. Last year, she produced “Rebounding From Loss,” a documentary that followed the Benjamin Franklin High basketball team after the shooting death of one of its players. Whether anchoring or covering Preakness, she never hits a wrong note (cover photo).

New Column

“City Folk”

Launched a little more than a year ago, City Paper’s “City Folk” column, offers a slice of Charm City life through Baltimore’s work-a-day characters—the cops, con men, costume makers, and funeral workers—of which there is no short supply. Whether it’s about a recovering drug addict who now works for the same courts that once sentenced him to jail, a 70-year-old former Romper Room teacher, or an Under Armour marketing department employee taking a shot at Nashville fame, the pieces provide insight into not just the person profiled but the city itself.


Jim Palmer and Gary Thorne

Doubt how good these guys are? Listen to Washington’s announcers when the O’s and Nats mix it up during inter-league play. If there’s a knock on Palmer, it’s that he’s an over-explainer. But there’s no question the Hall-of-Famer knows his stuff. He also knows his way around a metaphor, describing a hanging curveball to Manny Machado earlier this year as “churning like a cement mixer.” Sure, the broadcasts are fun again because the team is playing good ball, but listening to Palmer—with the team for nearly 50 years—and Thorne has also become a real pleasure for O’s fan.

Zine: Old School

Smile, Hon, You're in Baltimore!

Published 16 times by Eight Stone Press since its launch a decade ago, Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore! harkens back to when cheap photocopying and punk rock came together in a burst of DIY creativity and publishing. But that’s only one reason to love this zine. Issues are built around Baltimore-centric themes—like alleyways, the harbor, crime, and ghosts.

Zine: New School

What Weekly Magazine

Documenting the city’s renaissance, What Weekly’s collective of artists, entrepreneurs, educators, and writers produce media “dedicated to telling the positive stories about Baltimore.” The mission: “to create positive social change by amplifying the good stuff.” What we really like about What Weekly are the killer images and photography.

Political Marriage

Lisa Harris Jones and Sean R. Malone

Lawyers in love—it’s the stuff of TV melodrama, right? But when news broke that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake officiated the Las Vegas wedding of friend and longtime lobbyist Lisa Jones to fellow lobbying partner Sean Malone this summer, the story opened Baltimoreans’ eyes to the kind of behind-the-scenes personal relationships, and yes, even marriages, that shape city politics. The Brew reported that in 2011, Jones and Malone—long part of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s circle of friends—combined to pull in almost $1.5 million just in state-level lobbying work. Their clients read like a “Who’s Who” of companies doing business in front of the City Council and Maryland General Assembly.

Political Website

Maryland Reporter

Edited and published by Len Lazarick, the nonprofit website Maryland Reporter covers state politics and the General Assembly with unusual breadth and depth. A former Washington Post national copy desk editor, Lazarick later served as State House bureau chief for the Baltimore Examiner until its demise. Maryland Reporter provides original reporting, roundups of political news, a blog, and newsy podcasts—all done with professionalism.


Baltimore Brew

A glance at the Baltimore Brew will tell readers the online pub is unapologetic about throwing punches in its commentaries and reported pieces. For the most part, those punches—questioning Harbor Point development tax credits and calling out Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s support for the now failed “Superblock,” for example, are above the belt. The Brew’s at its best tackling the city’s underreported stories. baltimorebrew.com.

Public Campaign

Ray of Hope

It’s hard to find a pro-football player who can speak believably about being bullied, but with Ray Rice—all 5-foot-8 of him—students relate to the undersized kid who made it big. Last year, he brought his free Ray of Hope event to Merriweather Post Pavilion and he continues his pro-kindness, anti-bullying efforts. Rice also provided written testimony to the Maryland House Judiciary Committee in support of an anti-cyber-bullying bill, nicknamed “Grace’s Law,” after a 15-year-old Howard County girl who committed suicide.


Johns Hopkins Magazine

Alumni mags aren’t always the first thing we pick up, but we really like Johns Hopkins Magazine, especially since its redesign. It’s clean, using proverbial “white space” for a sharp, sophisticated look. And it seems the art, from cover photographs to inside illustrations, has taken a leap forward as well. The magazine is strongest when its features——such as recent cover stories on Hopkins grad Loren Stein taking over at The Paris Review connect Hopkins alums or Hopkins-related work with the larger world.


Jail Sex

Of all the unfathomable news that lands on our radar, reports that an inmate at the Baltimore City Detention Center impregnated four female prison guards remains in a class by itself. We knew of smuggling contraband and corrupt guards, but we had no idea of the amount of sexual “contact” between inmates, particularly between one Tavon “Bulldog” White, and staff. Beyond the salaciousness, the scandal highlighted the control of the prison by the Black Guerilla Family, whose handiwork in Baltimore has been well chronicled by the City Paper’s Van Smith.


Scott Shane

Each week, a tribe of Baltimore journalists boards the Washington MARC train to report on national, even international, events. For example, Julie Bykowicz, who covered state politics and government for a decade at The Sun, reports on money and influence for Bloomberg News, while longtime City Paper editor-in-chief Lee Gardner serves as senior editor at The Chronicle of Higher Education. But no one does more essential reporting than former Sun reporter Scott Shane in The New York Times’s Washington bureau, where he’s established himself as one of the leading U.S. journalists on intelligence and national security issues. A Pulitzer Prize finalist for his work on torture and interrogation, Shane’s byline is on the Times’s front page regularly, with stories on everything from drone strikes to the National Security Agency leaks.

Talking Heads

Square Off

Four years ago, and after a dozen years off the air, Richard Sher’s award-winning Square Off returned to TV—this time on WMAR-TV. (The show’s original 19-year run was on WJZ-TV.) And it’s been a welcome return. Every Sunday morning, Sher tackles national crises—or city issues—with local guests. There simply aren’t that many venues in which to see someone such as city State’s Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein, former Mayor Sheila Dixon, or Sen. Ben Cardin mix it up for 30 minutes with area attorneys, clergy, and activists.


Carol Ott

For four years, Carol Ott has exposed the owners of boarded-up, vacant homes and buildings around the city through her Baltimore Slumlord Watch blog, digging deep into housing records to discover the landlords ignoring their dilapidated properties. Now, she has launched a new project, the nonprofit Housing Policy Watch, partnering with Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., through which she will work on safe and healthy housing-policy issues and legislation.

Winning Cause

Scrapping the New Juvenile Jail

A sustained effort by youth advocates convinced the O’Malley administration not to build a new $70 million, 120-bed jail for Baltimore youth offenders, believing more youth jail space inevitably leads to more incarcerated youth. Led by religious leaders—alongside groups like Advocates for Children and Youth, and Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle—protests reversed what seemed like a done deal. Ultimately, the goal is to pump more funds into programs that help kids avoid trouble in the first place. Short-term, the state is working on alternative programs for nonviolent youth offenders—and ways to keep violent youth offenders out of adult prisons.

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WBAL weekend anchor and I-Team member, Deborah Weiner -Photo by Sam Holden

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