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Growing Sinclair TV Chain Features Crime, Drug Coverage

Every year, local television news stations owned by Sinclair Broadcasting survey viewers to help guide the year’s coverage. A key question in each poll, according to David Smith, the company’s executive chairman: “What are you most afraid of?” The answers are evident in Sinclair’s programming. Crime, homelessness, illegal drug use, failing schools, and other societal ills have long been core elements of local TV news coverage. On Sinclair’s growing nationwide roster of stations, the editorial focus reflects Smith’s conservative views and plays on its audience’s fears that cities are falling apart, according to media observers, Smith associates, and current and former staffers, reports the Washington Post. Sinclair’s local network of 185 stations makes it an influential player in shaping the views of millions of Americans, especially at a time when local newspapers are being gutted or closed altogether.

Smith, an enthusiastic supporter of Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump who has built Sinclair into one of the largest television station operators, purchased the Baltimore Sun last month, urging the Sun's journalists to emulate coverage at the local Sinclair station, Fox45. As Sinclair increasingly fills the void, it offers its viewers a perspective that aligns with Trump’s oft-stated opinion that U.S. cities, especially those run by Democratic politicians, are dangerous and dysfunctional. “Sinclair stations deliver messages that appeal to older, White, suburban audiences, and they play up crime stories in a way that is disproportionate to their statistical presence,” said Anne Nelson, a journalist and author of “Shadow Network: Media, Money and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right.” “All of it is fearmongering and feeds into a racialized view of cities.” Smith, in his meeting with Sun employees, credited the broadcaster’s success to its audience surveys and editorial approach to covering societal problems. Research shows that local news reports enjoy a greater level of trust than national outlets. That allows Sinclair to capitalize on that trust, experts say, even as some of its coverage delivers a particular worldview.


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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