Three of Missoula’s news outlets are in the news.
We’ll start with the print/online media: the Missoulian and the Missoula Independent, which are owned by Lee Enterprises. Then we’ll move on to Sinclair-owned KECI-TV.
About this time last year the Missoulian purchased the Indy. Non-management staff at the Indy, after watching the downsizing taking place at the city’s daily, thought a union might offer better leverage when it came to bargaining with the Lee corporation. The staff filed the necessary paper work to begin the unionization process last month.
And the staff got a lot of love from former Indy employees, other unions and the Missoula community as a whole. As a matter of fact, past and present employees came up with $800 to buy a half page ad in the Indy supporting the organizing efforts.
Word came down from on high that the ad wouldn’t see the light of day. Lee is so flush with money it can afford to snub an $800 buy — not.
Here’s the ad along with some more detail on what transpired.
Meanwhile, across the river at KECI, the newsroom is taking some heat. Also about this time last year, Sinclair Broadcasting Group purchased the Missoula station, along with KCFW in Kalispell and KTVM in the Butte/Bozeman market. Anchors at just about every station — closing in on 233 — read a statement issued by headquarters in Maryland (a station in Madison, Wisc., refused to play along). After an intro saying how proud they are of the balanced reporting their station provides, the talking heads said:
We’re concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country. The sharing of bias and false news has become all too common on social media. And 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.
And this is extremely dangerous to our democracy.
“False news.” “Fake stories.” Where have we heard those words before?
Our local anchors delivered the script which was followed the next day by this critique from Missoula Current founder Martin Kidston. An outtake:
In so-called “must runs,” Sinclair sends out short video segments that local stations around the country – including KECI – must work into their broadcast.
These politically motivated must-runs have made it easy for critics and media watchdogs to accuse Sinclair of pushing a right-leaning agenda, then cloaking its “fake news” warning as some sort of public service announcement intended to achieve some higher good.
But as one news analyst said, “Nothing says we value independent media like dozens of reporters forced to repeat the same message over and over like members of a brainwashed cult.”
In case you missed it, here’s a layered video, which went viral, of the Sinclair script.
I caught KECI’s 10 o’clock news on Monday. The lead story was a tribute to U.S. Sen. Steve Daines (R) securing $2.7 million for Missoula’s Mountain Line bus service.
Again, the Missoula Current had a different take. Reporter Sherry Devlin mentions both Daines and Sen. Jon Tester (D) for helping Mountain Line obtain the grant. How much influence the senators had in securing the funding is not known, although I appreciate any effort on their part to upgrade our bus system. For Daines to be the focus in the opening of the story is a bit disingenuous, though.
Is it Sinclair’s conservative slant that placed the story at the top of program with Daines figuring prominently? Or was it just an inexperienced reporter taking a press release from Daines at face value and not doing the follow up on exactly what his role was in obtaining the funding other than making an announcement.
Pre-Sinclair, I would have blamed it on a reporter being lazy and a news director being hard up for a good lead story. Now, I’m not so sure. And network news shouldn’t leave one guessing about its bias. The three stations owned by Sinclair refer to themselves as NBC Montana. Their motto is, “Working for You.” The jury’s still out on that.