They are called “must-runs,” and they arrive every day at television stations owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group — short video segments that are centrally produced by the company. Station managers around the country are directed to work them into the broadcast over a period of 24 or 48 hours.
Since November 2015, Sinclair has ordered its stations to run a daily segment from a “Terrorism Alert Desk” with updates on terrorism-related news around the world. During the election campaign last year, it sent out a package that suggested in part that voters should not support Hillary Clinton because the Democratic Party was historically pro-slavery. More recently, Sinclair asked stations to run a short segment in which Scott Livingston, the company’s vice president for news, accused the national news media of publishing “fake news stories.”
As Sinclair prepares to expand its stable of local TV stations with a proposed acquisition of Tribune Media — which would add 42 stations to Sinclair’s 173 — advocacy groups have shown concern about the size and reach the combined company would have. Its stations would reach more than 70 percent of the nation’s households, including many of the largest markets.
Critics of the deal also cite Sinclair’s willingness to use its stations to advance a mostly right-leaning agenda. That practice has stirred wariness among some of its journalists concerned about intrusive direction from headquarters.
That is what has happened in Seattle, a progressive city where Sinclair owns the KOMO broadcast station. In interviews over the past several days, eight current and former KOMO employees described a newsroom where some have chafed at Sinclair’s programming directives, especially the must-runs, which they view as too politically tilted and occasionally of poor quality. They also cited features like a daily poll, which they believe sometimes asks leading questions.
“It is something that’s very troubling to our members,” said Dave Twedell, a business representative for the union that represents photojournalists at KOMO. “I have not found one of our members who is supportive of our company’s position.”
The journalists at KOMO described small acts of rebellion, like airing the segments at times of low viewership or immediately before or after commercial breaks so they blend in with paid spots. They all spoke on condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal from the company.
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