The recent hit piece issued against Sinclair Broadcasting group published by Bloomberg and many main stream media outlets represent a confusing and largely irrelevant hodge-podge of alarmist prevarication and silly partisan sniping. It is almost as if by signaling the decades-long development and recent successes of Sinclair’s television business, the liberal media feels as if it is being denied its sole right to control the perspective of the news content received by everyday Americans.
Among the pettier accusations is that as a political pundit who appeared on the Sinclair Network in 2005 – more than a decade ago – I was also a paid consultant for the Bush Administration who did not disclose that fact for viewers. I was appropriately punished for that transgression and have since that time moved on from punditry to forming a company, Howard Stirk Holdings, which owns several broadcast stations in various local markets, some of which have business relationships with Sinclair Broadcasting Group. In its zeal to dig up dirt on Sinclair, the mainstream media this ignores more recent developments and thus misrepresents the reality of the situation.
This is an increasingly common occurrence these days – as the media have in essence abandoned their role as reporters and chroniclers of current events, to becoming drivers of public opinion. And it is in fact that very failure on the part of media organizations that has created the opportunity that is before both HSH and Sinclair Broadcasting Group. Namely, it is the opportunity to grow a business at scale that offers local news and serves the public interest.
The media ownership rules currently in place date back to the Radio Act of 1927, almost a hundred years ago, when the media landscape was far different than it is today. Technological innovations in spectrum management and signal engineering have enabled broadcasters to deliver content to local markets far more efficiently than was ever envisioned under the original law. Moreover, technological revolutions in internet and cable industries have created an ever-proliferating array of channels for content delivery. And yet the spirit of the law – that the limited spectrum allocated to television broadcasting is a publicly owned asset that must be operated in the public interest – remains as true and valid today as it ever was. This gets to the heart of other misrepresentations in the particularly bad Bloomberg hit piece. By characterizing Sinclair’s business as a pro-Trump propaganda outlet, the liberal media again misleads. It goes without saying that the values that Sinclair’s programming presents tend to reflect the values of its owners. This has always been the case – and was just as true when local Sinclair stations operated under more politically liberal owners. People forget, the liberal revolution in newsroom ownership occurred only about forty years ago, in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, as entrepreneurs with anti-establishment bents gained opportunities to enter the marketplace.
We are again at an inflection point in which the pendulum seems to be swinging back towards conservatism in media. The ascendance of Donald Trump to become America’s 45thPresident represents a sea-change in public opinion that could not have been foreseen from inside the liberal media bubble. That is why, even up to election night, mainstream media election forecasters got it completely wrong.
This point to another reason why independent news organizations like Sinclair are gaining market share. The public, by and large, continues their distrust of the mainstream media. They have been duped and lied to so many times that they are gradually tuning out the major national news sources. They are once again turning to local sources for their news, sources that are rooted in their communities, people who they know and trust.
HSH shares resources and have paid programming at Sinclair's flagship stations, cable news Channel 8 and WJLA ABC7 in Washington, DC, for example. There has been practically a sea change in the type of programming that existed under the previous ownership, the Albritton Group. Under the previous ownership, news viewership was flagging and production costs soared as evidenced by their declining ratings. SBG made strategic changes in their news, talent, and content, which in turn has produced dramatic increases in audience share – as of May of this year, WJLA is number one in the coveted 6pm slot. KOMO, Sinclair’s Seattle affiliate, is number one in the 4;30 a.m., mid-day, 4m, 5pm and 6-6:30pm slots. When compared to the stations’ performance under the previous ownership, KOMO WJLA in WDC, Sinclair has clearly transformed the business, both in relative rank and overall viewership
In today’s competitive media landscape, scale is the name of the game. Every business understands this – whether it is the local shoe shine parlor or a massively successful business such as Airbnb. These businesses must operate in local markets, while at the same time harvesting the technological and financial efficiencies that adhere to building regional and in some case national footprints. Sinclair’s innovations in distributing centrally-produced content across markets while at the same time preserving the local flavor of news and information are a major leap forward in this regard. That is why Sinclair generates such significant revenue on its invested assets. That is why the marketplace has responded so favorably to its business model.
Armstrong Williams is owner of Howard Stirk Holdings, which owns TV stations in Charleston, Myrtle Beach and other cities. He was the SGA president from 1979 to 1981 at South Carolina State University.