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Surreality and Sinclair Broadcasting

April 26, 2018

My neck is needling me, or my neck is being needled, and I’m attempting to put together my thesis proposal and my graduate project for News Reporting. My days are short and long at once — short in their predictability and technically long. I travel to Europe in two weeks, where I’ll be liberally spending my hard-won cash on clothes, hotels, Italian food, Amsterdam and Italian food. 35 unwritten pages of essays, petty homework (which is what I call day-to-day activities) and pending presentations might be the plights pricking my neck. 


But the real problem is Sinclair Broadcasting Group.


I wrote a story about the media giant’s recruiting relationship with the Mizzou J-School two weeks ago after national controversy erupted regarding the organization’s journalistic ethics. The piece went wild on social media, and it was my most-read article of the year, which was gratifying. And yet, I’m unsatisfied, as the J School seems to have clammed up since our last chat. 


Further internal discussions…


I’m afraid I don’t have much for you…


It’s frustrating when a journalism school stifles journalism, as I’m sure it’s frustrating when a journalism school has its own critical lens and apparatus turned on itself. It’s possible I’m being paranoid; earnest discussions are indeed occurring within the Journalism Department. 


Or, it’s possible that a school preaching openness and FOIAs and transparency is gun-shy when it’s time to buck up. 


The Dean of the Journalism School tried to dissuade, or at least discourage, me from publishing the story on the eve of its publication (15 days prior to this date). 


I’d finished asking my remaining questions and was going to move on to accuracy checking the interview we’d had the night before. I mentioned off-hand when the story would be published. 


David Kurpius: “Is it a story right now?”


Me: “It is, yeah. It’s probably gonna end up being around 600 words.”


DK: “Really? So what’s the hook of the story?”


Me: “The hook is that MU is considering whether it’s going to continue its recruiting relationship with Sinclair. Beyond that…there are internal discussions amongst faculty of how to respond to what has become a national story.”


DK: “Ok. I’m kind of like ehhh, you should wait until we actually do something. You would never do this story about Education. If Education was talking about whether their students should go take jobs at non-accredited school districts, you would never do that story.”


Me: “No, of course not.”


DK: “And so, why is this…I agree that when we make a statement that’s a story, but the discussion of whether we’re gonna make a statement, I don’t know if it’s a story.”


Me: “You raise a fair point, it’s definitely something that we’ve talked about. Do we put out a story soon about this discussion that’s going on and then follow up when something is actually done, or do we wait for something to actually get done? Your point about…this wouldn't happen at the School of Education, that’s sort of because the Missouri School of Journalism is a top journalism school. The fact that…”


DK: “Well, I take your point, but the story’s about what we do or don’t do, not about the process of deciding what we’re going to do or not do, and in this state, the School of Education is the top one in the state, so what they’re doing to guide people on what they do on their jobs here, the internal discussion’s not very interesting, but if they made a decision not to have any partnerships with unaccredited school districts…that would be a story. But the discussion about whether it’s a story or not…And quite honestly, you wouldn't even know about this if it hadn't been that I sent out a meeting request, and you don’t get meeting requests from the School of Education or Engineering School or whatnot, so the only reason you…have even any sense sausage is being made is because the faculty in the newsroom is being invited to a meeting about it.”


Me: “I actually —”


DK: “I don’t care if you do a story, I’m just saying the story’s really when we make a decision, and you’ve got great quotes and great understanding of what’s going on, but…in my mind there’s not a story until we actually do something.”


Me: “Your point is well-taken. I think that this conversation about the School of Education is sort of beside the point and dealing in things that aren’t actually happening, but I also think that I was thinking about writing this story last week before any email was sent out about the university’s relationship with Sinclair just because of what other journalism schools were doing. But —”


DK: “Or what other top journalism schools are not doing.”


Me: “Exactly.”


DK: “Medill’s not in there, I mean there are a lot of big schools that would be more our competitors…”


Me: “Yeah, Columbia and Northwestern definitely —”


DK: “Listen, you’re gonna do what you wanna do, I’m not trying to convince you one way or the other, I just find it kind of interesting.”


Me: “I hear what you’re saying —”


DK: “The story is the action, so when we actually do make a decision, that’ll just be a...story.”


Me: “Yeah, I am gonna bring it back up with my editor because it’s definitely a valid point. So, I do appreciate it.”


DK: “Yeah, well, whatever happens, happens. I’m not that worried about it, I’m just curious about the decision-making of how we choose stories, when a story’s ready to go and when it’s kind of on hold.”


I changed the subject to reading back a quote I already had from him in the article.


Earlier in the interview, Kurpius told me he thought a decision would be made in the next couple days. 14 days later, after repeatedly reaching out to multiple sources, to my knowledge, nothing has been done. 


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