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Hi, I'm Marcy Burstiner. My greatest responsibility is to serve my community. I am extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that I produce, but I'm concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country. The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media. More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories without checking facts first. Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think. This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.
It is my responsibility to report and pursue the truth. I understand the truth is neither politically left nor right. My commitment to factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility now more than ever. But I am human and sometimes my reporting might fall short. If you believe my coverage is unfair, please reach out through this publication by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. I value your comments and someone will respond back to you. I work very hard to seek the truth and strive to be fair, balanced and factual. I consider it my honor and privilege to responsibly deliver the news every day. Thank you for watching, I mean reading, and I appreciate your feedback.
Marcy Burstiner is a professor of journalism and mass communication at Humboldt State University. The above statement is basically a word-for-word transcript of a script Sinclair Media forced its anchors to read on air in April. Sinclair is the country's biggest owner of TV stations — 193 in more than 100 markets. It is trying to buy the Tribune Co., which would give it another 40-some stations. That means it has access to some 40 percent of local TV audiences nationwide and could soon have access to 70 percent, at least according to the New York Times. Reporter Sydney Ember of the Times contacted Sinclair Chairman David Smith, who is company founder Julian Sinclair Smith's son. In response to the idea that people are angry about the scripts, he wrote Ember: "Do you understand that as a practical matter every word that comes out of the mouths of network news people is scripted and approved by someone?"
A number of anchors and reporters at Sinclair stations don't like being forced to read scripts produced by some suit in Maryland and are considering quitting. That opens up job opportunities for Burstiner, who has secretly dreamed of being a TV news anchor but didn't have the necessary height, poofy hair or on-air presence. So if anyone from Sinclair is reading this column, consider it a tryout. Sinclair bought her local station, North Coast News, last year.
If you are a bigwig at Sinclair know this: You won't have to worry about Marcy Burstiner quitting in protest. She got that out of her system back in 1990, when she quit her first newspaper job at the Southern Illinoisan in Carbondale. She was a city reporter and woke up one morning to find 14 inches of the front page of the paper devoted to an apology from the publisher for a sports column that compared the St. Louis Cardinals to a lemon that a used car dealer sold to fans.
The apology was addressed to the region's car dealers, who were the top advertisers of the paper. When the reporting staff protested, the publisher said they had to accept his notion of journalistic ethics or leave. Burstiner gave two weeks notice, packed her belongings into a small U-Haul trailer and drove west to shack up indefinitely with the guy she would end up marrying. She quit with just enough money to pay for the U-Haul and enough gas to get it to California but few people have the luxury to quit their jobs. Burstiner was 26 with no kids and no mortgage and her student loans amounted to less than $200 a month. The company she worked for did own quite a few publications in the Midwest but she never planned to stay anywhere so far from an ocean. It would have been much different if she were in TV and her boss controlled about a third of all possible job opportunities in the country. If that were the case, she'd probably still be covering chili cook-offs in coal country.
As an at-will peon, Burstiner could also quit anytime she wanted to. Bloomberg News reported that many Sinclair employees are under long-term contracts that make them liable to damages for leaving before their contracts expire. The contracts also include non-competition clauses so employees can't jump to non-Sinclair stations. For this column, Burstiner spoke to an employee at North Coast News frustrated that even if he or she were able to leave the current job, it would be hard to find another one elsewhere at a station not owned by Sinclair.
Despite the contracts, some journalists are handing in resignations over Sinclair's must-read scripts. CNN reported that in Nebraska, a producer for KHGI tendered his resignation. Others are staging smaller acts of protest. In Eugene, The Register-Guard newspaper reported that local anchors Lauren Lapka and Cameron Walker refused to read the above script.
We are starting to see journalists at other news organizations also fighting back over corporate owners' bullying tactics in what might be the beginnings of a #MeToo movement among journalists who are finally fed up over decades-long abuse.
The Denver Post devoted much of its front page recently to stories that attacked Alden Venture Capital, the hedge fund that owns the newspaper's corporate owner, Digital First Media, which also owns the Times-Standard in Eureka, and has gutted newspaper staffs across the country.
In January, the staff of the Los Angeles Times voted overwhelmingly to unionize in response to continuing newsroom cuts — a move that convinced its owner, Tronc, Inc., to sell the paper.
Besides the concern for the individual journalists — who work hard, generally for low pay with the idea of journalism as public service — many in the industry are concerned about corporations turning journalism into an effective propaganda machine.
Writer Walter Lippmann once theorized that most of what we think we know comes to us indirectly from media. If media tells us something we agree with, that reinforces our ideas. If it contradicts what we think we know, we reject it. If we get some new piece of information from multiple forms of media in such a way that we forget where particularly it came from, then we simply just know it to be true. So if people get information from Laura Ingraham at Fox News that echoes something they hear from a local news anchor on a Sinclair station such as KRCR-TV in Eureka, and that agrees with a news site on the web and a magazine they subscribe to, they will likely not remember where, in particular, the info came from. But it becomes truth. Some propaganda theory says that to make media even more influential you have to eliminate contradictory media altogether. A good way of doing that is convincing people that contradictory media is dishonest or "fake." If you do this often and effectively enough, then people will come to see media that contradicts what they already "know" as fake.
Most of all Sinclair, remember: Marcy Burstiner's greatest responsibility is to serve her community. She is extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that she produces, but she's concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country.