Discussions of national politics by local stations
Emory University researchers selected 1,000 two-word phrases indicative of partisanship from congressional speeches in 2017 and measured the usage of those phrases in local news coverage.
Density of stations
Source: Gregory J. Martin and Josh McCrain,
A recent Emory University study found that Sinclair typically rolls back coverage of local politics when it buys a station.
Political scientists Gregory J. Martin and Josh McCrain examined newscasts on hundreds of stations and found that Sinclair-owned stations increased their coverage of national politics by about 25 percent in the first year after being purchased by the company and decreased local political reporting by about 10 percent.
What’s more, the study found that the national political reporting supplied by Sinclair to its stations “shifts significantly rightward,” compared with rivals. Among the “must run” stories Sinclair has ordered its stations to air are commentaries by Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump campaign surrogate and briefly a White House official. Sinclair Chairman David D. Smith told the New York Times in April that the practice is not unique to Sinclair and that “every local TV station” is required by its owners to run specific content.
McCrain argues that this shift in content and tone is likely to “increase the partisanship of [Sinclair’s] viewers.” He added: “This may be more pronounced given many viewers are not aware of Sinclair’s politics,” since the stations are not as heavily identified with an ideology as national broadcasters such as Fox and MSNBC.
Sinclair has aggressively rebutted the notion that its news coverage is skewed toward the right. Its top news executive, Scott Livingston, has said that “our local stations keep our audiences’ trust by staying focused on fact-based reporting and clearly identifying commentary.”
Sinclair’s journalists in Johnstown say they strive to be impartial, and none said they are pressured by managers to tilt their coverage politically. Both Janakovic and Chip Minemyer, the editor of the local Tribune-Democrat newspaper, agree. “I’ve never really seen them slanting one way or the other,” Minemyer said.
Several Sinclair employees in Johnstown told The Post their main concern wasn’t ideology, but their workload and compensation.
A starting “multimedia journalist” — who is expected to report, write and edit news stories — earns around $27,000 to $28,000 at WJAC. That’s about $3,000 more per year than the same position at rival WTAJ, according to one reporter. WJAC pays overtime, too.
The reporters say viewers occasionally notice that they appear on several stations at once, but few people seem to understand the mechanics of the common news operation.
“They say things like, ‘They sure are keeping you busy,’ or ‘Didn’t I see you on [another station]?’ ” a second reporter said. “I don’t think people realize how this works.”