As Broadcast Companies Like Sinclair Get Bigger, ‘We Keep Losing Editorial Voices’

Sinclair's $3.9 billion bid for Tribune is still under FCC review

At an NAB panel discussion today, authors of a new report on local TV news reveal the pros and cons of consolidation. Getty
Headshot of Chris Ariens

The corporate-mandated “fake stories” promo that recently aired across most of Sinclair Broadcasting’s 193 stations has sparked a conversation about what an increasingly consolidated news media means for the viewer—perhaps nowhere more so than within Sinclair-owned newsrooms, like KSNV (NBC) in Las Vegas.

“We haven’t talked about journalism like this in a long time,” said Mark Neerman, News Director of KSNV and Regional News Director for Sinclair.

Neerman says that, when he got a copy of the promo from Sinclair corporate, he called in his news anchors, who would be its voice in the Las Vegas market. “I put the script in front of them, and didn’t say anything. They said, ‘that’s who we are,'” Neerman told Adweek.

Neerman was among the panelists at a conversation about the future of TV news here at the annual NAB Show in Las Vegas, a gathering of more than 100,000 global media and technology executives, editors and producers.

The discussion followed the publication of a new report on the state of local news compiled by the Knight Foundation. That report presented existing challenges and suggested solutions for local TV newsrooms looking to stay relevant to their communities.

“One of the major factors taking place is the steady concentration of media,” said Hofstra University professor emeritus Bob Papper, an author of the study. “We have lost an average of 7 local TV newsrooms, every year, for the last decade,” he added. Currently there are 703 local TV newsrooms that are producing news for more than 1,000 TV outlets nationwide. “We keep losing editorial voices,” Papper said. “Here’s the critical point: to what extent does the FCC care about their own rules?”

The FCC mandates that an owner of broadcast licences can reach no more than 39 percent of American households.

Sinclair, which is the largest TV station group owner of outlets in small and medium-sized markets, is on the precipice of acquiring Tribune Media, which will give it stations in the nation’s six largest markets; it is also taking steps to remain under the FCC cap. In some cases, it will be managing all station operations while the broadcast licence is owned by another entity.

Papper added that consolidation “has made healthy companies healthier.”

“One of the great advantages of the scale is the way we can get content out to all of our stations,” said Neerman of Sinclair’s expanding footprint. “Our network of stations allows for better content for those stations.”

@ChrisAriens Chris Ariens is the managing editor and director of video at Adweek.