15-plus communities that are about to be rocked by Sinclair’s conservative local news takeover 

November 17 | Posted by Rich Culbertson | Media Feeds

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Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

Conservative local TV news giant Sinclair Broadcast Group has been quietly injecting right-wing spin into local newscasts for years. The company thrives when it flies under the radar, serving local audiences who might not realize what they’re tuning in for — so Media Matters is helping to highlight where communities can fight back.

Sinclair’s most well-known tactic for slanting newscasts is its use of nationally produced “must-run” commentary segments. The segments, which all Sinclair-owned and operated news stations are required to air, include (frequently embarrassing) pro-Trump propaganda missives from former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn, rants about “politically correct” culture from former Sinclair exec Mark Hyman, and fearmongering “Terrorism Alert Desk” segments that seem to often focus on just about anything Muslims do.

Now Sinclair is ramping up its efforts with a proposed acquisition of Tribune Media stations. The purchase would allow Sinclair to expand its presence in mid-sized cities across the country (particularly in battleground states) and enter the media markets of the largest U.S. cities for the first time. Many of the top markets Sinclair will enter — like New York, NY, Los Angeles, CA, Chicago, IL, and Houston, TX — are also top markets for black and Latinx viewers specifically. Sinclair is working to get final regulatory approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Department of Justice for its acquisition of Tribune Media. If the acquisition gets the agencies’ final stamp of approval, Sinclair-controlled newscasts will reach nearly three out of four U.S. households.

The Trump FCC has been working overtime all year to pave the way for the Tribune purchase, relaxing its rules in ways that just so happen to directly aid Sinclair’s growth. The FCC is also set to vote today on changes to current local ownership caps that would give Sinclair more freedom to own multiple major local news stations in the same market, making the merger even easier.

The potential merger, and the FCC changes that will allow Sinclair to expand its ownership nationwide, will have both geographic and demographic impacts. As Carmen Scurato, the director of policy and legal affairs at the National Hispanic Media Coalition, pointed out to Media Matters, “What is being overlooked is the dismally low number of women and people of color [that] currently own broadcast stations. Consolidation will do nothing to increase these numbers and in fact will result in pushing these individuals out of the market, as well as keep potential entrants out. We need more diverse viewpoints, since those who own the media control the narrative.”

Of course, all of this sounds scary — especially because your local news station probably doesn’t advertise its ownership. The Sinclair logo isn’t going to show up in the corner of your screen — instead you’re likely to see that of the parent company it’s affiliated with, like Fox or ABC, which just means that the station airs some of its nationally produced news and entertainment programming — and Epshteyn’s segments, for example, are not uniformly introduced on Sinclair stations as originating from its national headquarters.

It’s also scary because we know people trust local news more than national sources — one survey found that local broadcast news, specifically, is seen as the most trustworthy source for information. And many have access to only free broadcast (and not cable or satellite) TV for news. According to the National Association of Broadcasters, 31.1 percent of Latinx households and 47.7 percent of Spanish-speaking Latinx households have only free broadcast TV.

But consumers are left to connect the dots about Sinclair on their own, which is exactly what the media giant wants — and which is why Media Matters has compiled a list of the communities where Sinclair is expected to grow soon:

  • Seattle and Tacoma, WA
  • St. Louis, MO 
  • Oklahoma City, OK
  • Salt Lake City, UT
  • Las Vegas and Reno, NV
  • Richmond and Petersburg, VA, and Washington, DC
  • Chico, Redding, and Eureka, CA
  • Portland, OR
  • Harrisburg, Lancaster, Lebanon, and York, PA
  • Des Moines and Ames, IA
  • Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, and Battle Creek, MI
  • Greensboro, High Point, and Winston-Salem, NC
  • Missoula, MT
  • New Orleans, LA
  • Hartford and New Haven, CT
  • And pretty much every major U.S. city you can think of

Seattle and Tacoma, WA

Sinclair currently owns and operates the stations KOMO (ABC 4) and KUNS (Univision Seattle), which already share studio space in Seattle. KOMO employees have anonymously spoken out in The New York Times and Bloomberg Businessweek against Sinclair ownership. The articles described employees’ “small acts of rebellion” taken to minimize the impact of Sinclair’s must-run segments and other instances in which Sinclair’s corporate leadership appeared to dictate editorial decisions at KOMO. As part of its pending purchase of Tribune Media, Sinclair is set to acquire the stations KCPQ (Q13 Fox) and KZJO (a MyNetwork affiliate branded as “JOEtv”), which already share a studio space in Seattle.

In a recent filing with the FCC, Sinclair identified the Seattle local media market as one of 10 markets in which the Tribune merger would push Sinclair above the current FCC ownership caps — meaning it may have to sell one of the two largest stations. If Sinclair were to sell KOMO or KCPQ in order to comply with the FCC rules — at least as they are currently written — it could still theoretically enter into an agreement with the new owner to continue operating all of the stations. That means there’s a good chance that any Seattle-area viewer tuning into the city’s top local news stations would end up watching a Sinclair-controlled newscast; Spanish-speaking Seattle residents would have even fewer options.

Sinclair is also known for consolidating studio and staff resources, so all four Seattle stations could theoretically share studio space in the future. Just last month, KOMO leadership declined to sign a contract with one of the unions representing KOMO staff that would have guaranteed jobs should the merger be finalized.   

St. Louis, MO 

The St. Louis media market reaches more than 1.2 million TV households in Missouri and southwestern parts of Illinois. Sinclair currently owns and operates the St. Louis station KDNL (ABC 30), which airs a Fox News-like commentary show hosted by a local right-wing talk radio host as its only local news programming. It would acquire the stations KTVI (Fox 2 Now) and KPLR (CW 11), which already share a studio, in its pending purchase of Tribune Media.

In a recent filing with the FCC, Sinclair identified the St. Louis local media market as one of 10 markets in which the Tribune merger would push Sinclair above the current FCC ownership caps — meaning it may have to sell one of the two largest stations. If Sinclair were to sell KDNL or KTVI in order to comply with the FCC rules — at least as they are currently written — it could still theoretically enter into an agreement with the new owner to continue operating all three stations.

Sinclair is also known for consolidating studio and staff resources, so all three St. Louis stations could theoretically share studio space in the future. That means there’s a good chance that any St. Louis-area viewer tuning into a top local news stations would end up watching local right-wing conspiracy theorist Jamie Allman, or whatever new, Sinclair-run newscasts are added to the market post-merger.

Oklahoma City, OK

Sinclair currently owns and operates the stations KOKH (Fox 25) and KOCB (CW 34), which already share a studio in Oklahoma City. (KOKH was featured in a recent segment on HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver that focused on Sinclair’s tactics.) KOCB re-airs KOKH’s Fox 25 evening newscasts each night. Sinclair is set to acquire the stations KFOR (NBC News Channel 4) and KAUT, an independent channel branded as Freedom 43 that airs KFOR-produced newscasts, in its pending purchase of Tribune Media.

In a recent filing with the FCC, Sinclair identified the Oklahoma City local media market as one of 10 markets in which the Tribune merger would push Sinclair above the current FCC ownership caps — meaning it may have to sell one of the two largest stations. If Sinclair were to sell KOKH or KFOR in order to comply with the FCC rules — at least as they are currently written — it could still theoretically enter into an agreement with the new owner to continue operating all of the stations. That means there’s a good chance any Oklahoma City-area viewer tuning into top local news stations would end up watching a Sinclair-controlled newscast.

Salt Lake City, UT

Sinclair currently owns and operates the stations KJZZ (an independent station), KUTV (CBS 2) and KMYU (a MyNetwork affiliate branded as My Utah TV), all three of which share a studio space in Salt Lake City. Sinclair also manages “non-programming related” operations for KENV (NBC News 10), based in Elko, NV, through a service agreement between the station’s owner and Sinclair subsidiary Chesapeake Media LLC. Though KENV’s website says the Sinclair subsidiary does not manage programming at the station, there are links to Circa, Sinclair’s mobile-focused media company, and posts of Sinclair must-run segments elsewhere on its website. KENV also shares at least some news resources with KRNV and KSNV, two Sinclair-controlled stations in Reno and Las Vegas in Nevada (see below). Sinclair is additionally set to acquire Salt Lake City’s KSTU (Fox 13 Now) in its pending purchase of Tribune Media.

In a recent filing with the FCC, Sinclair identified the Salt Lake City local media market as one of 10 markets in which the Tribune merger would push Sinclair above the current FCC ownership caps — meaning it may have to sell one of the two largest stations. If Sinclair were to sell KUTV or KSTU in order to comply with the FCC rules — at least as they are currently written — it could still theoretically enter into an agreement with the new owner to continue operating all of the stations, in the way it has influenced the news branding at KENV. That means there’s a good chance a Salt Lake City-area viewer tuning into one of the city’s top local news stations would find a Sinclair-controlled newscast.

Las Vegas and Reno, NV

In Las Vegas, Sinclair owns and operates the stations KSNV (NBC Las Vegas, News 3) and KVCW (CW Las Vegas), which share a studio space. More than 400 miles away, in Reno, Sinclair owns and operates KRXI (Fox 11) and provides “non-programming related” operations for KRNV (NBC News 4) and KAME (a MyNetwork affiliate branded as My21) through a service agreement with Sinclair subsidiary Chesapeake Media LLC. All three Reno stations also share a studio space, and My21 does not appear to have its own website, instead posting its schedule on the Fox 11 site. KENV in Elko, considered part of the Salt Lake City media market (see above) serves as a semi-satellite to KRNV in Reno, meaning that it airs some of the same news programs but may have different branding. Considering the current amount of shared resources between Sinclair-owned and operated stations in Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, and Reno, as well as planned expansion in Salt Lake City, viewers throughout the region are likely to find Sinclair-controlled newscasts wherever they try to tune in.

Richmond and Petersburg, VA, and Washington, DC

Sinclair will be expanding its power soon in two media markets neighboring its flagship station in Baltimore, WBFF (Fox45 Baltimore), and its corporate headquarters in Hunt Valley, MD. In Washington, D.C., one of the top 10 media markets in the country, serving more than 2.4 million viewers, Sinclair currently owns and operates WJLA (ABC 7) and the regional cable network NewsChannel 8, which shares a studio with and is managed by WJLA. It is set to acquire WDCW (DCW 50) in its pending purchase of Tribune Media, and could then re-broadcast WJLA or NewsChannel 8 newscasts own WDCW. In Richmond, VA, Sinclair currently owns and operates WRLH (Fox 35) and is set to acquire WTVR (CBS 6) in its pending purchase of Tribune Media.

In a recent filing with the FCC, Sinclair identified the Richmond local media market as one of 10 markets in which the Tribune merger would push Sinclair above the current FCC ownership caps — meaning it may have to sell one of the two stations. If Sinclair were to sell WRLH or WTVR in order to comply with the FCC rules — at least as they are currently written — it could still theoretically enter into an agreement with the new owner to continue operating both of the stations. That means there’s a good chance a northern Virginia or D.C.-area viewer tuning into the area’s top local news stations would find Sinclair-controlled newscasts as the region gears up for competitive 2018 gubernatorial races in Maryland and Pennsylvania and Senate races in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

Chico, Redding, and Eureka, CA

Sinclair recently purchased New York-based Bonten Media, adding 14 more local television stations in eight markets to its portfolio and indirectly assuming operations via a subsidiary for four more stations. A large portion of those newly acquired stations are in the neighboring northern California media markets of Chico/Redding and Eureka. As of September, Sinclair now owns or operates the stations KRCR (ABC 7), KCVU (Fox), KUCO-LP (Univision), and KRVU-LD (MyNetwork) in Chico and Redding. It also owns or operates KAEF (ABC 7), KBVU (Fox), KECA-LD (CW), and KEUV-LP (Univision) in Eureka. KRCR and KAEF, the two largest Sinclair stations in these markets, share a website and some resources: KAEF broadcasts some of KRCR’s programming but also airs some separate newscasts. With this recent acquisition, local TV viewers in Chico, Redding, Eureka, and surrounding communities are much more likely to find Sinclair-controlled newscasts wherever they tune in. Spanish-speaking community residents will have even fewer options.

Portland, OR

Sinclair currently owns and operates the stations KATU (ABC 2) and KUNP (Univision Portland), which already share studio space in Portland. It is set to acquire KRCW (CW 32) in its pending purchase of Tribune Media. In a recent filing with the FCC, Sinclair identified the Portland local media market as one of 10 markets in which the Tribune merger would push Sinclair above the current FCC ownership caps — meaning it may have to sell one of the two largest stations. If Sinclair were to sell KATU or KRCW in order to comply with the FCC rules — at least as they are currently written — it could still theoretically enter into an agreement with the new owner to continue operating all of the stations. That means there’s a good chance that a Portland-area viewer tuning into a top local news station will find Sinclair-controlled newscasts. Spanish-speaking Portland residents will have even fewer options.

Harrisburg, Lancaster, Lebanon, and York, PA

Sinclair currently owns and operates the Harrisburg station WHP (CBS 21) and is set to acquire the York station WPMT (Fox 43) in its pending purchase of Tribune Media. In a recent filing with the FCC, Sinclair identified the Harrisburg local media market as one of 10 markets in which the Tribune merger would push Sinclair above the current FCC ownership caps — meaning it may have to sell one of the two largest stations. If Sinclair were to sell WHP or WPMT in order to comply with the FCC rules — at least as they are currently written — it could still theoretically enter into an agreement with the new owner to continue operating both stations. That means there’s a good chance a Harrisburg-area viewer tuning into a top local news station would find a Sinclair-controlled newscast, just as the state of Pennsylvania gears up for competitive gubernatorial, Senate, and congressional races in 2018.

Des Moines and Ames, IA

Des Moines, the capital of Iowa, has the largest media market in the battleground state, where there are multiple competitive races set to take place in 2018. Sinclair owns and operates the station KDSM (Fox 17) in Des Moines and will acquire the station WHO (NBC 13) in its pending purchase of Tribune Media. In a recent filing with the FCC, Sinclair identified the Des Moines local media market as one of 10 markets in which the Tribune merger would push Sinclair above the current FCC ownership caps — meaning it may have to sell one of the two largest stations. If Sinclair were to sell KDSM or WHO in order to comply with the FCC rules — at least as they are currently written — it could still theoretically enter into an agreement with the new owner to continue operating the station. That means there’s a good chance a Des Moines-area viewer tuning into a top local news station would find a Sinclair-controlled newscast.

Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, and Battle Creek, MI 

Sinclair already owns and operates the Kalamazoo station WWMT (CBS Newschannel 3) and will acquire the Grand Rapids station WXMI (Fox 17) in its pending purchase of Tribune Media. In a recent filing with the FCC, Sinclair identified the Grand Rapids local media market as one of 10 markets in which the Tribune merger would push Sinclair above the current FCC ownership caps — meaning it may have to sell one of the two largest stations. If Sinclair were to sell WWMT or WXMI in order to comply with the FCC rules — at least as they are currently written — it could still theoretically enter into an agreement with the new owner to continue operating the station. That means there’s a good chance a Grand Rapids-area viewer tuning into a top local news stations would find a  Sinclair-controlled newscast.

Greensboro, High Point, and Winston-Salem, NC

Sinclair currently owns and operates the stations WXLV (ABC 45) and WMYV (a MyNetwork affiliate branded as My48), which share a studio space in Winston-Salem. Though WMYV does not regularly air local newscasts, it does post local news stories on its website that are sourced from various Sinclair stations across the country — a common practice for all Sinclair-owned or operated stations. Sinclair is set to acquire the High Point station WGHP (My Fox 8) in its pending purchase of Tribune Media. In a recent filing with the FCC, Sinclair identified the Greensboro local media market as one of 10 markets in which the Tribune merger would push Sinclair above the current FCC ownership caps — meaning it may have to sell one of the two largest stations. If Sinclair were to sell WXLV or WGHP in order to comply with the FCC rules — at least as they are currently written — it could still theoretically enter into an agreement with the new owner to continue operating all three stations. Sinclair is also known for consolidating studio and staff resources, so all three stations could theoretically share studio space in the future. That means there’s a good chance a Greensboro-area viewer tuning into a top local news stations would find a Sinclair-controlled newscast.

Missoula, MT 

In its recent purchase of Bonten Media, Sinclair also acquired a network of stations in the Missoula and Butte/Bozeman media markets. Prior to the Bonten purchase finalized in September, Sinclair did not own or operate any stations in the state of Montana. Now it will control local newscasts on a major affiliate: NBC Montana. NBC Montana is a local network consisting of the flagship station KECI-13 and two smaller stations that air some of the same programming: KCFW in Missoula and KTVM in the neighboring Butte-Bozeman media market.

New Orleans, LA

If its pending purchase of Tribune Media goes through, Sinclair would expand into Louisiana and the New Orleans media market with its acquisition of the stations WGNO (ABC New Orleans) and WNOL (CW NOLA 38).

Hartford and New Haven, CT

If its pending purchase of Tribune Media goes through, Sinclair would also expand into Connecticut and the major media market serving Hartford and New Haven with its acquisition of the stations WTIC (Fox 61) and WCCT (CW).

And pretty much every major U.S. city you can think of

Sinclair’s portfolio has traditionally focused on mid-sized cities, but with its Tribune Media purchase, the local news conglomerate will be acquiring stations in many of the largest media markets in the country for the first time. These cities and stations include:

  • WGN-9, an independent station in Chicago, IL;
  • WJW (Fox 8) in Cleveland, OH;
  • KDAF (CW 33) in Dallas, TX;
  • KDVR (Fox 31) and KWGN (CW 2) in Denver, CO;
  • KIAH (CW 39) in Houston, TX;
  • WXIN (Fox 59) and WTTV (CBS 4) in Indianapolis, IN;
  • WDAF (Fox 4) in Kansas City, MO;
  • KTLA (CW 5) in Los Angeles, CA;
  • WREG (CBS News Channel 3) in Memphis, TN;
  • WSFL (South Florida CW) in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, FL;
  • WPIX (CW, PIX-11) in New York, NY;
  • WPHL (MyNetwork, PHL17) in Philadelphia, PA;
  • KTXL (Fox 40) in Sacramento, CA; and
  • KSWB (Fox 5) in San Diego, CA.

These are far from the only communities where Sinclair owns or operates local news stations — or will soon. You can find a full list of stations owned or operated by Sinclair on its website, and here is the full list of stations it is set to acquire with its purchase of Tribune Media.

Julie Alderman contributed research to this report. All images created by Sarah Wasko.

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