Kiesewetter: Sinclair Staff Apology Shows Company Still Doesn't Get It

Apr 11, 2018

Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of WVXU. 

So you're a long-time loyal Channel 12 viewer, and you're weren't happy seeing anchors Rob Braun and Cammy Dierking forced to read a corporate-mandated complaint from owner Sinclair Broadcast Group about media outlets which "push their  own personal bias and agenda, to control exactly what people think."

You trust and respect Rob & Cammy, and were offended when they appeared with three dozen other Sinclair anchor teams on Deadspin, mouthing the exact same script like mindless corporate robots. So you complained to the station.

Well, that makes you an extremist and a bully, according to the apology sent to Sinclair stations Tuesday by Chris Ripley, Sinclair president and CEO. And your complaints about Sinclair messing with your favorite local news station were "politically motivated attacks."

Ripley's apology to station staffers shows that Sinclair doesn't understand the damage it's doing to the precious bond a local news team has with you, the viewers. That bond, if broken, will send you to a competing news station, never to return for years. Just ask the folks at Channels 5 and 9 who have lusted in their hearts for Channel 12's stranglehold on viewers for nearly two decades.

You don't want your beloved anchors -- at any station -- forced to shill for their owners. And hopefully you're aghast – as I am – that someone has threatened the life of anchor Rob Braun, as he told coworkers last week, because of Sinclair's meddling in the Local 12 newscast. (I've been unable to find out exactly when, where, how or why he was threatened.) 

Ripley says he's "truly sorry" Sinclair station staffers had "to field nasty calls, threats, personal confrontations and trolling on social media." And he apologizes to employees who "were personally affected by the attacks from last week."

There was no apology for not clearly labeling it as "opinion" or an "editorial"; or for the company's lack of empathy for the hard-working journalists at each station whose credibility and integrity have been jeopardized.

You want Rob & Cammy, and every local newscaster, to tell it straight – just the facts ma'am, with a little personality – in their own words, based on their own observations and experience. You want local editorial independence, not corporate interference.

Yet Sinclair dismisses your passion for impartiality as "politically motivated attacks."

I say this not as a conservative or a liberal, but as a news purist. People who have a political agenda see things through a political prism, and sometime overlook basic facts.

--Local news is not conservative or liberal. It's news.

--If viewers don't think they're getting unbiased, factual reporting – or if they don't trust the anchors and their motives – or if they see too many corporate "must runs" (Circa features; the Terrorism Alert Desk; "Full Measure" and "DailyMailTV" promotions) and not enough local news – they'll switch to another newscast. (In a statement Monday, Sinclair explained the "must run" news and commentary content provided to stations, and affirmed its commitment to local news. "As broadcasters, we know that our greatest responsibility is serving our local communities.  The "must-run" story content produced by our 10-person Capitol Hill bureau focuses on daily reporting on national issues of importance.  But at the end of the day, 95% of the content and editorial decisions are made at the local station level.  This also allows the local stations to use their resources for hyper-local coverage." Read the entire "Sinclair's Response to Criticism" here. )

--Commentary always should be clearly labeled as "commentary," "opinion" or an "editorial," as it has been since the beginning of television.

--People aren't stupid.

--If fewer people watch, that means less profit.

If Channel 12's ratings and revenues drop, who will be blamed? The anchors as usual? Or the corporate bosses who gave the audience reasons to distrust the anchors, and an excuse for viewers to find other sources for local news?

Sinclair just doesn't get it.

Read for yourself. Here's the statement to Sinclair stations April 10 from Chris Ripley:

Sinclair Team,

I know that for many of you, this past week has been challenging as the stations bore the brunt of politically motivated attacks regarding our news promotions.  As you know, the practice of on-air personalities following a script is not unique to Sinclair, however, the blowback we received for doing so certainly is. For having to field nasty calls, threats, personal confrontations and trolling on social media, I am truly sorry you had to endure such an experience. However, as an organization it is important that we do not let extremists on any side of the political fence bully us because they do not like what they hear or see. 

On Friday Scott Livingston and I had a News Director meeting to answer questions about the situation from the field.  At the end of the call I did a recap regarding our commitment to local that I would like to paraphrase for the benefit of those that were not on the call.

In the TV station business, there are four core sources of value: 1) wireless spectrum, 2) programming/distribution contracts, 3) local news/content and 4) local sales/relationships. Due to our unique engineering talent and industry leadership in next generation TV (ATSC3.0), Sinclair is most known for spectrum, and often times this leads to a perception that we do not value the local aspects of the business. This perception is not consistent with the value drivers of the industry. In fact, two out of the four value drivers in this business are locally based.

As we enter into a time of unprecedented change and disruption in media, it’s more important now than ever to be focused on serving our local communities and businesses with the best programming and the best marketing services. Those that fail to do these two things well and fail to innovate will not be in business 5-10 years from now. That means we cannot be satisfied with the status quo way that TV broadcasting has historically operated. To that end, Sinclair will continue to pursue new and innovative strategies including our hybrid approach of bringing together the best of the local broadcast model with the best of the network model which will undoubtable expose us to more criticism because “no other local TV broadcasters does it that way.” 

However, those that do not answer the call to innovate will be sucked into the black hole that is big tech which is consuming every segment of the media universe. Contrary to much of the uninformed coverage on Sinclair we are not a monopoly and do not have any material market power, even by pre-internet standards. We simply have a seat (at) a large table of competitors and potential substitutes. A seat that we have to earn the right to keep by focusing on the needs of our local viewers and local advertisers.

So let me be clear, service and dedication to our local communities is an absolute priority here at Sinclair. It is a key strategic advantage for our company and often the reason others value us in the media ecosystem. Once again, my apologies if you were personally affected by the attacks from last week.

Best,

Chris