2017: The Year That Broke The Local News

President Trump makes no secret of his disdain for the media. He regularly assaults news outlets like CNN and the New York Times, calling them “fake news” and the “enemy of the people.” While his public criticism of the news media undermines the fourth estate and American democracy, an even more insidious battle is being waged quietly against local news nationwide.

The 24-hour cable news networks seem to suck up most of the air with their celebrity news anchors and slick editing and sensational stories. In search of ratings and advertising dollars, these networks work hard to define and cater to their target audiences which means that they tend to spin in one political direction or the other. And since they provide nationwide coverage, they feature stories that appeal to as broad an audience as possible.

Despite the importance of cable news, people continue to rely on their local news for the stories that directly affect their family and community. People trust local news channels to give them necessary information about their local communities, the country, and the world.

This year has seen excellent local news coverage in the face of multiple horrific natural disasters that have swept the country, mass shootings, as well as national stories reported from the perspective of how they impact the markets served by the local channels. Local news also provides necessary information that helps to keep residents safe and informed, and it gives a platform for uplifting news that honors local heroes.

Unfortunately, local news has seen a decline in viewership in recent years. The reason for the loss of viewers ranges from limited viewing times to the rise of online and cable news sources. But no factor has been more damaging to local channels than the invasion of syndicated news.

This assault is being led by Sinclair Broadcast Group. Sinclair, a long established right-wing news organization, has always pushed their political leanings into programming, but 2017 saw Sinclair’s influence grow exponentially.

Sinclair’s tactics are underhanded, and they were recently fined $13.3 million for their less than ethical approach. The company’s model includes the acquisition and consolidation of local news stations. When they move in, they cripple the budgets and resources to those stations and then they deceptively integrate paid advertising into their straight news reporting. It was this strategy that recently cost Sinclair $13.3 million. Even more offensively, Sinclair produces right-wing “news” segments that their stations are forced to run. Here is an example of one such segment – Propaganda at its finest.

The federal government does have regulations, implemented through the FCC, which are intended to rein in the ability of a company like Sinclair from taking over the news nationwide.

The FCC, however, is now under the control of the Trump administration. Following the same course as most other agencies under the Trump administration, the current FCC has been eliminating regulations that would constrain Sinclair.

As we approach 2018, Sinclair is poised to take over, even more, local networks particularly in battleground states across the country ahead of the 2018 and 2020 elections.

As Sinclair embarks on their underhanded attempt to infiltrate local media markets nationwide, with the assistance of the FCC, they are not alone in attempting to promote Trumpism and a right-wing agenda.

In New York, Republican mega-donor Joe Ricketts made his mark on the media in New York and several other major cities. Ricketts is a banking billionaire. He owns the hyperlocal news company DNAinfo. DNAinfo purchased New York city digital outlet Gothamist and Gothamist’s sister sites in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and Washington D.C.

The acquisition took place in March. Shortly after the purchase, five posts on Gothamist that were critical of Ricketts were deleted. By November, eight short months after acquiring the sites, Ricketts announced he would be closing, not one, but all of them.

Some staff at the sites received news of the closure along with the public. Several staffers report that when the story hit, they went to their website, hit refresh, and found a letter from Ricketts and all of their work gone. Ricketts has single-handedly put 115 people out of work with the decision to close the sites.

There was a significant public outcry after the closure that resulted in previous work being put back up as an archive after it was initially erased. It just so happens that a week before Ricketts decided to close the sites and put all the staff out of work, the crew had voted to unionize.

Ricketts himself refused to acknowledge the union voluntarily before the vote. He has a history of breaking up unions and was in the habit of spreading fear that unionizing would cause the business to close. While he did not cite the vote in his November decision to close the companies, the timing certainly seems peculiar.

The New York media market was not the only market affected by Ricketts. California’s LAist and SFist were also shut down as a result of Ricketts’ acquisition. Sinclair also walloped other California local media markets.

Sinclair has also purchased a number of Spanish-language Univision affiliates throughout California. Already limited outlets for Spanish speakers are now at the mercy of organizations like Sinclair and Ricketts; especially since the majority of Spanish speakers only have access to free broadcast networks, as opposed to cable.

Sinclair cornering the Spanish news market means that propaganda posed as truth will broadcast without a counter for Spanish speakers. Sinclair has recently planned to purchase KTLA in 2018. KTLA is a Los Angeles based station.

Coincidently, or not so coincidentally, LA Weekly, a local alternative magazine, was recently purchased by a shell corporation. The entire editorial staff was fired without explanation as soon as the purchase was made.

Sinclair is increasing their already strong foothold in the Seattle, Washington market, acquiring more stations, and changing the perspective and landscape of local news irreparably.

So what does it all mean? Why does it matter? Local news is important. Despite the growth of news giants like CNN and MSNBC, most Americans rely on local news channels and news local news personalities they have grown to trust.

Imagine this: a person comes home from work and wants to catch up on what news they need to know. They flip on their local trusted news channel and are met with segments like Bottom Line With Borris.

Local News channels will begin to look more and more like Fox news. Nationwide, viewers will be unwittingly subjected to right-wing propaganda in the guise of news. Areas with limited news choices and Spanish speaking viewers are particularly at risk of manipulation by the propaganda.

There is a reason the media is considered the fourth estate in our Democracy. The slow and subtle takeover of local media by right-wing propagandists ought to alarm everyone, right or left.

Featured Image via YouTube Video