Dean Susan King shares perspective on Sinclair Broadcasting
Susan King, dean of the UNC School of Media Journalism, sent a letter to Sinclair Broadcast Group Executive Chairman David Smith on Wednesday, April 11, outlining her concerns on the issue surrounding Sinclair station anchors reading a statement that includes accusations that other news outlets publish “fake news.”
King’s letter comes in the context of a growing number of media and journalism school deans signing on to a letter written by Lucy Dalglish, dean of the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
“I applaud Dean Dalglish and my fellow deans for speaking up and challenging Sinclair,” said King. “I chose to support their efforts and leadership by reaching out directly to Sinclair in a way that accented our school’s values and my personal view as a broadcaster.”
King’s letter cites three paragraphs in the Sinclair statement that she called “diatribes against the media that played into an ideological narrative about fake news.”
“I am not against a corporate owner articulating core values for its properties and asking leaders in their news organizations to be bridges with the audience,” King wrote. “However, dragging down others as proponents of fake news, sowing doubt and distrust, does not help build confidence in our business or its values.”
The full text of the letter follows:
Dear Mr. Smith,
My colleague and fellow dean Lucy Dalglish of the Phillip Merrill School of Journalism at the University of Maryland recently wrote you a letter about her students’ worry about recent commentary read by anchors at all your current stations. As a school close to your corporate offices, the University of Maryland has many students who work closely with Sinclair executives and stations.
Many other journalism school chairs and deans have signed on to Dean Dalglish’s letter. As a former broadcaster and a reporter and anchor at WJLA, the Washington station you now own, I wanted to reach out directly to share a bit of a different perspective. I have serious concerns but felt signing on to the letter would not adequately explain them.
At this time of economic dislocation in our business and record lows in American trust of the news media, I am focused on helping to strengthen news organizations committed to serving their communities and preparing a new generation of journalists eager to work in newsrooms across the country. I urge news organizations – newspaper, radio, TV and digital outlets – to firmly share with their audiences their core values.
The script that your Sinclair news teams had to share with audiences was dictated by the corporate office. Much of the script articulated Sinclair’s corporate values and its promise to the community. However, three paragraphs were diatribes against the media that played into an ideological narrative about fake news.
Those paragraphs became the centerpiece of the video that went viral.
Stating what a station believes in, building a brand that deserves trust, reminding audiences that reporters are committed to giving the audience the information needed to make decisions, is a real plus and a service to your communities. Cutting down the media and playing into the fake news tirade does not build trust. It only feeds into the anxiety about news today.
I am not against a corporate owner articulating core values for its properties and asking leaders in their news organizations to be bridges with the audience. However, dragging down others as
proponents of fake news, sowing doubt and distrust, does not help build confidence in our business or its values.
I would have had no trouble reading this articulation of values in the statement if I worked for you today: “We work very hard to see the truth and strive to be fair, balanced and factual. We consider it our honor our privilege to responsibly deliver the news every day.”
Saying “We’re concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country” without providing facts does not fit a reporter’s role. I would have declined to read that—no matter what the consequences. As Sinclair awaits regulators’ approval for a new merger, I believe its corporate leadership must rethink how it is communicating its values, its role as a broadcaster and the difference between commentary and opinion in newscasts.
I hope you will see this letter as a dean’s sharing of concerns and a request to make it clear to your communities, to the national journalism schools’ deans and to your news teams across the country that your corporate executives know the difference between opinion and responsible journalism.
John Thomas Kerr Distinguished Professor