Last week, when an anonymous YouTuber put together a video that highlighted the verbatim script that many Sinclair Broadcasting stations read on the air, all hell seemed to break loose among the population that never noticed how similar media messaging is. Wire services have been doing it for decades, selling stories on a subscription basis to news outlets from coast to coast. The people that notice it happens are those that have to track publicity in archives and public relations firms everywhere.
This is absolutely nothing new.
However, the general public was not aware that media messaging is not individually tailored to audiences, and so the revelation of corporate-wide scripts was rather shocking.
And like the Americans we all are, we the people called the individual stations to complain about it, sometimes traumatizing the workers at the outlets as we have been conditioned to react badly to propaganda reports even if we are surrounded by it day in and day out by every form of communication available.
The situation was bad enough that the CEO of Sinclair Broadcasting, supposedly a right-leaning corporation, wrote a note to his employees apologizing.
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 undoubtedly 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 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.
Really, all news is supposed to be local, but wire services and national stories tend to carry the same script. That is just the way journalism operates and has for many years. It really is not something for the people to get upset over and attack workers who had no part in crafting the message.