Sinclair and Rogue Valley Media
By Addie Greene
April Ehrlich of Jefferson Public Radio reports that “The Medford Mail Tribune is the Rogue Valley’s biggest newspaper. Its new owner purchased it after receiving financial backing from Sinclair Broadcasting Group.”
Sinclair, which reaches about 40 percent of American households, last year required its local anchors to read an editorial echoing Donald Trump’s criticism of the media. And the Mail Tribune’s new owner, Steven Saslow, overruled his editorial board’s support for Jamie Mc-Cleod Skinner in the 2018 2nd Congressional District race in favor of Rep. Greg Walden.
Since 2016 Walden has received more campaign contributions than any other lawmaker from Sinclair’s political action committee. Undoubtedly, that is because “Walden pushed hard for dropping cross-ownership rules, which previously prohibited broadcast companies from owning newspapers,” Ehrlich says. “Walden told the FCC those rules were outdated and introduced a bill in 2016 that would end them. The following year, the FCC did just that,” Ehrlich says.
Sinclair moves into mostly small and rural markets—Eureka, Medford, Redding— often using “sidecar agreements,” allowing it to operate stations without actually owning them, so Sinclair can skirt federal caps on broadcasting coverage. This is exactly what it did with the Mail Tribune and the Ashland Daily Tidings, lending Saslow money (and exercising control) for his $15 million purchase in 2017, incorporating the two papers under his business, Rosebud Media LLC.
Shortly after Rosebud’s purchase, it formed a partnership with KTVL, Medford’s Sinclair-owned TV station. KTVL is in the process of moving into the Mail Tribune building.
Aside from the implications of having the Rogue Valley’s newspapers and a television station allied along the political spectrum with Fox News, Saslow has shrunk the newsroom and dedicated its website almost entirely to video. Web “viewers first land on a ‘Rosebud Update’ video, which includes anchor Lauren Forman reading national and local headlines from a studio in Florida,” Ehrlich says. Because of the emphasis on video, Ehrlich says, reporters won’t pursue a story that doesn’t have a visual element. That means “dry news” like city council meetings won’t get reported.
“Ashland City Councilor Julie Akins—who has written articles for both papers and is a former news director of KOBI—says she’s worried about most of the Rogue Valley’s news content coming from a single company,” Ehrlich reports.
Although Saslow’s purchase was trumpeted in the paper as “Mail Tribune Back in Local Hands,” he lives, and is registered to vote, in Pennsylvania.
“In an age when everyone wants their news quickly and free,” Ehrlich says, “newspapers struggle to survive financially. Southern Oregon University journalism professor Chris Lucas says this has led to big companies buying local news outlets, then instituting drastic cost reductions and layoffs to collect short-term profits. ‘Localism is really important,’ Lucas says, ‘but it’s not cheap.’”
The Mail Tribune in 1934 was the first paper in Oregon to win a Pulitzer Prize for its local investigative journalism. Is that going the way of the passenger pigeon?