The back story, if it hasn't penetrated your feeds yet: Sinclair, a hyper conservative media giant run by the Smith family out of Baltimore, owns KOMO as well as nearly 200 other local TV stations across the US. In addition to forcing these stations to air pro-Trump segments called "must-runs" veiled as news, Sinclair recently also required station anchors to read an extremely creepy script parroting Trump's talking points about fake news. Deadspin put a montage together of dozens of anchors reading the script as though they were in a hostage situation. It's worth a click.
In addition to this mess, the Republican-led FCC is currently considering a nearly $4 billion bid from Sinclair to buy Tribune Media, which would then beam Sinclair propaganda into 73 percent of US households, including another station in Seattle, Fox's Q13. (Yesterday, I called for a boycott of Sinclair advertisers. More on that later today.)
Anyway, Rosenberg spoke to a bunch of KOMO insiders Monday after a meeting between staffers and management, and it sounds... tense. "Some staffers have reached a breaking point and have discussed protesting their corporate bosses," Rosenberg writes, "or plan to leave as soon as they can."
A few enlightening passages:
Several KOMO employees said anchors at the station had met to discuss a protest when word came down last month about the “fake news” script Sinclair mandated they read. But those talks fizzled, and every anchor at the station eventually recorded versions of the segment, like at most other Sinclair stations across the country.
Any concerned journalists there face a quandary: Quit now — which could result in huge financial penalties for breaking their contracts — or make plans to move on as soon as their deals end.
Sinclair's contracts are draconian. If an on-air employee quits before their contract is over, for instance, Sinclair can require that employee to reimburse the multi-billion dollar company for marketing and promotional materials—say, the cost of a billboard with their face on it. (This, according to a couple Sinclair employees I spoke to, is not actually that out of the ordinary in the news/entertainment business, although not all stations in all markets enforce these clauses.)
More from Mike:
Small batches of protests have continued. Some KOMO directors have aired the “must-runs” between commercial breaks, in hopes that viewers would pick up on the fact that it wasn’t part of the regular newscast. Others have posted, on their social media pages, links to stories criticizing Sinclair. ...
Other journalists there, who said viewers on social media have called them propaganda tools in recent days, have already decided they will leave as soon as their contract is up.
“I don’t want to be a part of that company any more,” said a KOMO journalist who has already decided to depart after a contract expires later this year.
That said, leaving Sinclair's employment before your contract is over can come with some serious financial penalties, even if you don't have to pay them back for their billboards. Back to Mike:
Many of the KOMO journalists have non-compete clauses that prevent them from working for a non-Sinclair media station for a certain period after leaving.
And Sinclair is often where the jobs are: On journalismjobs.com, the main job board for the industry, 64 percent of the 1,300 open jobs listed as of Monday were for Sinclair.
A journalist who interviewed for a digital job at KOMO several months ago said the company seemed “very desperate” to hire: He recalled being offered a $80,000 salary and stipend for a director job even though the applicant had no experience managing people and was currently making $38,000.
Uhhh, $80,000 salary with no experience required?! Where can I apply?? Just kidding. They'd never hire me. Or would they....
For its part, Sinclair is still doing their thing: They released a statement yesterday entitled, "Sinclair Responds To Unfounded Media Criticism."
"We aren't sure of the motivation for the criticism," said Scott Livingston, Sinclair's Senior Vice President of News, "but find it curious that we would be attacked for asking our news people to remind their audiences that unsubstantiated stories exist on social media, which result in an ill-informed public with potentially dangerous consequences. It is ironic that we would be attacked for messages promoting our journalistic initiative for fair and objective reporting, and for specifically asking the public to hold our newsrooms accountable. Our local stations keep our audiences' trust by staying focused on fact-based reporting and clearly identifying commentary."
Sure you do. Check back later today for a list of Sinclair advertisers to boycott.