You may have seen the viral video by now of dozens of local news anchors all reading the exact same script about fake news and bias on Sinclair television stations, including KOMO in Seattle.
There’s a front page story in The Seattle Times: “Amid a national outcry over Sinclair Broadcasting and its mandate to insert conservative talking points on local TV news, several journalists at KOMO News . . . describe a newsroom in turmoil. Some staffers have reached a breaking point and have discussed protesting their corporate bosses, or plan to leave as soon as they can.”
Some of you listening might be wondering, “What’s the big deal? I bet this happens all the time. If you own a TV station, you get to say what goes on your TV station.”
Well, not exactly.
Don and I have never worked for Sinclair Broadcast Group. But we have worked for many of the big companies in America. CBS, Entercom, Citadel, and Bonneville to name a few. In our 22 years in radio, we have never been given a script from the home office and told that we had to read it, no questions asked. Not once.
We have made a few corrections over the years when a factual mistake was aired. But that was after the fact, and we would just come back and correct the error during the show.
Sinclair script read is not normal
I point this out to say that this is extremely rare.
Virtually every other company in the local news business encourages reporters and anchors to enterprise their own stories. They want them to write their own scripts. Sure big companies will share stories between markets from time to time, but this is the first time I can recall a nationwide company mandating that every market must read the same script.
In an era where we are now learning about how big entities like Cambridge Analytica are actively trying to manipulate the way people think through social media, I believe it is more important than ever to know who you are actually listening to when it comes to news.
Sure, it’s nearly impossible to remove all bias from a reported story. But that’s very different than a corporation saying you must read this copy or you could lose your job.
Local news thrives when the people in the community build a relationship of trust with people on air. Trust is eroded if you can’t tell the difference between a mandatory corporate piece and a locally-written piece.
Every reporter I’ve ever known in television news, radio news, or newspapers stake their reputation on getting it right. They work extremely hard to verify and validate the facts in the stories they present.
All that to say that I just wanted you to know that what’s happening at these 193 stations is not normal. Whether you agree with the opinion or not, it is not normal.
You can hear “What are we talking about here?” everyday at 4:45 p.m. on 97.3 FM.