A new promo campaign from the conservative-leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group is raising concerns about the message the company is promoting through the 173 local stations it owns or operates.
A video montage of news anchors at Sinclair stations across the country regurgitating the same company-mandated script decrying “false news” went viral over the weekend. Sinclair says the promos are focused on unsubstantiated stories like “Pope Endorses Trump” or “Pizzagate,” but media critics noted that the promos also echoed some of the same anti-media sentiment pushed by President Donald Trump.
Most of Sinclair’s stations are CNN affiliates – meaning CNN shares content and resources with them and vice versa.
Sinclair is the largest owner of local TV stations in the US, but it’s not just its size that makes it influential, it’s also how the US audience views local news compared to other media.
More people still get their news from local television stations than from any other source.
According to a 2017 Pew Research Center study, 37% of Americans say they often get their news from local television news. That’s higher than cable news (28%) or network television news (26%). It’s far greater than the percentage of Americans who they get their news through newspapers (18%), radio (25%), social media (20%) and even from news websites (33%).
Local television news also reaches an ideologically diverse audience.
Although a study of local television ratings and transcripts by Gregory J. Martin and Josh McCrain of Emory University determined that viewership of Sinclair owned stations does seem to be lower in Democratic leaning areas, it’s not as easy to distinguish liberal versus conservative sources for local news like it is on cable or radio talk shows. Democrats and Republicans are about equally as likely to watch local news, according to Pew. Republicans are 9 points more likely to watch cable news often, as a point of comparison.
It is therefore far easier for any local television news station to get a point of view across to both sides of the aisle in a way that it isn’t for other types of news organizations. And yes, Martin and McCrain’s study does show that Sinclair focuses far more on national political news than its competitors.
The public is also more likely to trust the information coming from a local news source. Pew found that 85% of Americans trust local news organization at least somewhat for information. That’s higher than any other source and even greater than friends and family who clock in at 77% for trust.
This trust is probably why local television news has kept its grip on many demographic groups which you might not expect. While those 65 years and older are the most likely to often get their news from local television (57%), a significant share of 18-29 year-olds (18%) and 30-49 year-olds (28%) still do as well. The ability of local television news to reach a younger audience is one of its main differentiating factors with cable and network news. Less than 17% of those 30-49 and less than 11% of those under 30 get their news often from either cable or network television. (It should be noted that those under 50 are, not surprisingly, more likely to get their news online than on television.)
The group that is most likely to get their news from local news are the group that Trump has become closely associated with: the working class. Pew found that nearly one-half of those making less than $30,000 a year and nearly one-half of those with a high school degree or less often get their news from local television. The percentage of the working class who get their news from local television is over 10 points higher than those who get it from cable or network television. Among those who make more than $75,000 a year or have at least a college degree, less than 30% often get their information from local television news. Slightly more from these groups rely on cable news.