This week we asked you to fill out a survey about your trust in media that we’re working with Seattle CityClub to share out. In the 150+ responses we’ve gotten so far, many of you expressed concerns about Sinclair Broadcast Group, the largest broadcast company in the country and the parent company of Seattle’s KOMO-TV. (Here’s a great profile on Sinclair by Businessweek). Not sure what’s going on? Let’s break it down…
I keep hearing that people are upset about KOMO and Sinclair. Why?
Over the last year, TV stations, including KOMO, started airing pre-recorded news segments to talk about “the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country.” The thing that wasn’t immediately apparent to viewers? These clips were part of a mandatory script from Sinclair. That means that anchors from all of Sinclair’s nearly 200 TV stations across the U.S. were required to read from the same script. Check it out in this video montage that recently went viral and was compiled by the news site Deadspin.
And why’s this such a big deal?
Any time a journalist is required to say something by someone, it calls into question whether the public can trust the information the journalist is delivering — especially when the journalist doesn’t — or in a Sinclair journalist’s case, can’t — disclose that they were required to say it.
This story also blew up recently because Sinclair is trying to acquire broadcasting company Tribune Media, which would add 43 stations to its group. That concerns the company’s critics, who don’t want its practice of dictating broadcasts to its journalists to spread.
So what’s been the reaction to all this?
KOMO and other Sinclair stations have received a deluge of complaints from viewers who noticed that anchors nationwide were required to read these segments and were concerned that it was spreading a political agenda. Sinclair chairman David D. Smith shrugged it off, calling the segments “standard practice” for the industry and saying that “every word that comes out of the mouths of network news people is scripted and approved by someone.” And President Trump has been supportive of Sinclair – he tweeted: “The Fake News Networks, those that knowingly have a sick and biased AGENDA, are worried about the competition and quality of Sinclair Broadcast.”
And how do KOMO and other Sinclair staffers feel about it?
Some KOMO anchors have been anonymously quoted in stories about their newsrooms’ plummeting morale, feeling pressured to change how they report the news, and being morally compromised. Also, one Sinclair employee in Nebraska has resigned, but others have said even if they wanted to quit, they can’t afford to break their contracts.
On the flipside, Molly Shen, another KOMO anchor, explained why she feels okay about reading from the script. She wrote on Facebook, “Ultimately, I made the personal decision to record the video. I wasn’t forced. I didn’t do it to save my job or anyone else’s. I did it because I do sincerely believe in what we do every day at KOMO as local journalists.”
So what’s something I can do to make sure I’m receiving news I trust?
It’s on news organizations to earn our trust, and it’s in their best interest to hear us out when they’re failing at that. But for starters, trust your gut. If something seems off, don’t be afraid to speak up and push for journalists to help you understand how they do that very public work. Need inspiration? Here’s a great example of an Ohio TV news station that’s owned by another broadcasting company, E.W. Scripps, being transparent about their values with their community.
Have any other questions about what’s going on with Sinclair? Or questions for The Evergrey about how we do what we do? E-mail us at [email protected].