How propaganda outlets have bought out nearly 25% of local news outlets — and they’re just getting started.
“News Deserts” Empower Takeovers
The decline of print media has been a slow and painful death for the last forty years. While generations now depend on a variety of digital products to stay informed, it’s the closure of local print news that has created “news deserts” across the country. Local reporting has been the baseline for many to keep up on what’s happening politically in their community, but the important thing to note here is that local television reporting has been the replacement. This has become presented an opportunity for a conservative news “coup” involving Sinclair Broadcasting. You might ask “what’s the big deal?” We are moving into a digital age, and this is just the cost of progress. What you aren’t taking into account is that there is a methodical and manipulative force in the Sinclair takeover that is deliberately moving the needle of opinion to conservative views instead of providing a non-biased approach to reporting. It’s not just business as usual.
One might make an incorrect assumption that the closing of small newspapers around the U.S. isn’t any form of a red flag. There have been numerous studies and articles covering the effects of this condition. The American people need to be concerned because as local media has closed, the data is showing that candidates such as Donald Trump outperformed in the areas that had low news subscribers. The addition of alternate sources that call themselves “news” but are in reality more akin to propaganda machines is the perfect formula to change the opinions of those that have no other way to get their information.
Data supplied by a Politico report indicates that those communities that lacked local news sources also had reduced abilities for fact-checking and this opened the doors for many to make false claims and spread misinformation without any independent media accountability. While some may offer the fact that smaller and rural areas seem to share more conservative views, this also makes them the perfect targets to push sources of misinformation that comply with their fundamental beliefs.
In the past, newspaper reporters defined their careers on being responsible and accountable for the information that they printed. They covered law enforcement, local politics, the courts, and the community as a whole. The reporting that they do offers information as well as performing the role of watchdog. When there were errors or mistakes, they printed the corrections. This traditional form of journalism is not being followed by the broadcasting stations that are taking over the country.
So How Bad Can It Be? Pretty Bad…
A propaganda machine relies on the ability to present specifically skewed information combined with a sense of trust by the people reading and viewing so that they would never think to question what is being presented. When you get rid of well-known local print media that a community has historically relied on for everything dealing with both local and national news, communities look for an alternative. When this “alternative” is deceptively designed to appear as news but is, instead, a method to manipulate political and personal opinions, it falls into the category of brainwashing. More and more people are accessing their news from online sources which not only contains questionable information but is written by individuals that are not trained journalists.
The University of North Carolina’s School of Media and Journalism did a comprehensive study showing that communities have lost 20% (about 1,800) of all community and metro newspapers in the U.S. Other publications have become “ghost newspapers,” scaling back their staff and reporting. The remaining newspapers have also reduced their coverage and employees. While existing television cable and newsroom channels are struggling to try to keep up, they just can’t accommodate the needs.
Most people haven’t heard of Sinclair Broadcasting Group, but they have been quietly buying and taking over local television news stations for quite some time. In the world of Sinclair, their ideologies consist of creating a local news that spews “mainstream media is fake news”, and the viewers should trust them. Sinclair Broadcasting has been involved in an organized takeover effort that has (so far) involved around 200 stations in 100 markets nationwide.
The entire situation of the Sinclair takeover didn’t become part of trending information until a video was created by Deadspin’s journalist, Timothy Burke. Across the country, Sinclair owned anchors are repeating the same thing, promoting their views and saying: “Other media sources are extremely dangerous to our Democracy.”
As you watch the short video, you will get chills down your spine. It features local news anchors in the stations that Sinclair owns reciting the same script word-for-word. Viewers may think they are watching the usual local news, but instead, they are watching very biased reporting that is made up to look like your friendly local news station.
Storytelling for a Conservative Society
Television news reporting of the historical past in the U.S. typically involved stating validated facts in a non-emotional way with additional opinion pieces that were noted as such. All of this changed when President Reagan abolished The Fairness Doctrine. Under the guise of offering different sides of a discussion, it ushered in the era of Fox News and their ilk. This form of “cognitive dissonance” appealed to those that wanted only specific views that validated their belief system.
Today, the news has transcended into a non-stop method of telling stories in a repetitive manner that is both incorrect and in some cases, outright lies. One example of this was covered in a report by MediaMatters in which the Sinclair Broadcast Group mandated local news stations to run a video segment warning that a group of migrants were at the borders of the U.S. and were making “an attempted invasion of our country.”
The video was the brainchild of former Donald Trump aide, Boris Epshteyn, and designed to give far-right messages funneled to local news broadcasting to over 2 million American households. However, this is just one of the many propaganda scripts that Sinclair requires the anchors to relate.
There are still larger print media that remain unfettered by the likes of Sinclair, and Greg Sargent of the Washington Post argues:
The larger context is important. This isn’t a conservative opinion. It’s disinformation.
Sinclair is now reportedly requiring dozens of local stations to air a segment that defends the tear-gassing of migrants and describes them as an “invasion of our country.” The segment is classic agitprop. It whips up hysteria about a crisis that has “greatly escalated,” and bashes “the left” for undermining the military and refusing to “abide by the rule of law.
The rule of law dictates that migrants have the legal right to apply for asylum, not that they represent a breach or an infestation or an “invasion.” The segment smoke-screens this central fact with chaotic, frightful imagery.
A Strategy to Battle Sinclair Propaganda
It takes money to run a newspaper, television station, or any reporting source. Each time you view any form of advertising, you see the financial source that pays the bills. To get to the heart of the problem and make corrections, you need money and a lot of it. The former ideology that journalism organizations must involve only those in the industry is making a dynamic shift. There are some that are appearing on the landscape that are throwing a lifeline to print media, and they come from the least expected areas.
Fighting the good fight against Sinclair Broadcasting from a legal standpoint will take too long and the current administration will not penalize them as a monopoly. Thus we see the entrance of the American Journalism Project that is generating the financial backing for the next generation of reporting, headed by a venture capitalist.
John Thornton has a background of success, the vision to know what works, and the experience to take on a giant like Sinclair and win. With co-founder, Chalkbeat’s Elizabeth Green, the AJT began with initial funding from both the Knight Foundation and the Democracy Fund. If you want to know what AJT is all about, you need only look at their home landing page:
We are mobilizing a movement to support the local press our democracy deserves. Market forces are failing local news, and as a result our democracy is at risk. The mission of the American Journalism Project is grounded in our understanding of the severity, urgency, and scope of the crisis at hand.
The AJT is jumpstarting journalism, moving money and talent into the areas that are starving the most and funneling funds for entrepreneurs working on new journalism startups. Thornton and his crew are not just talking millions, but billions of dollars and the grand plans are launching jobs for local news talents.
But AJT isn’t the only one out there in the fight. The news deserts are getting some well-deserved rain with some of the smaller organizations. The Institute for Nonprofit News is listing over 190 nonprofit member sites that have over 2,200 employed journalists, with around half being focused on local news. LION Publishers is a local independent online news publishers group that has an incredibly impressive growth record.
Local news is also being addressed by Public Radio with news programs that differentiate themselves from the usual crowd. They have a local infrastructure already in place with local audiences and radio towers, proving that the battle is now being fought on many fronts. One of the most recent notable actions has been the partnership between NPR and Kaiser Health News with 27 stations to create a health policy report team.
However, money alone won’t elevate current and new journalistic efforts. This is where the backers such as Lenfest and Knight come into play. They have supported the spark of change with Table Stakes while encouraging independents, innovation, and the creation of news alliances on the regional levels.
One of our principles in our Democratic experiment has been freedom of the press. We need to stop the spread of misinformation and lies and ensure that we-the-people receive truth in reporting. The efforts of organizations such as Sinclair Broadcasting is a direct violation of our core beliefs. We cannot lose the ability to tell fact from fiction, truth from lies.