Top journalism schools voice displeasure with Sinclair

Several of the top journalism schools in the country sent a letter to the Sinclair Broadcast Group Friday voicing their displeasure with the company for forcing dozens of its anchors to read a centrally-scripted message for a promotional video on “fake” news.

A week ago, Deadspin created a montage of the puppet-like recitations by Sinclair anchors that went viral, setting off a torrent of criticism against the Baltimore-based broadcaster that shows no signs of diminishing.

Deans from nine J-schools signed the letter addressed to David D. Smith, executive chairman of Sinclair.

The schools are: University of Maryland, Syracuse University, University of Georgia, Morgan State University, University of Illinois, Louisiana State University, Temple University, Ohio University and the University of Mississippi.

“One of the tenets of American journalism and one of the foundations of American democracy is that news reporting serves as an independent voice free from government censorship and influence,” the letter says. “Moreover, American news consumers have come to expect that news professionals cover news rather than advance the business or political interests of news organization owners.”

The letter goes on to say, “While news organizations have historically had and used the prerogative to publish and broadcast editorials clearly identified as opinion, we believe that line was crossed at Sinclair stations when anchors were required to read scripts making claims about ‘the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country.’”

The letter acknowledges that “no news organization is beyond critique,” and the Sinclair video was correct in pointing out “that social media have been used all too often to spread ‘false news.’”

But, the letter added, “these are two very different things — the work of professional journalists who produce real news and the false accounts on social media. In making the leap to disparage news media generally — without specifics — Sinclair has diminished trust in the news media overall.”

The letter mentions the irony noted in several columns here.

“Ironically, Sinclair’s use of news personnel to deliver commentary — not identified as such — may further erode what has traditionally been one of the strongest allegiances in the news landscape, the trust that viewers put in their local television stations.”

The letter ends by suggesting the schools’ relationships with Sinclair will depend on how management responds to the letter.

“As journalism educators, it is our duty to stand up for the ethics of the profession,” Lucy Dalglish, dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, wrote in an email Friday. “Furthermore, it's our duty to stand up for our students, who now worry about the demands a future employer might make that run counter to their belief in comprehensive, unbiased and fact-based news reporting.”

You can read the full letter here.

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

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