Written December 4, 2012     

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© 2016 Bob Lonsberry


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This is a note to the Sinclair Broadcasting Group.

Welcome to town.

More correctly, welcome back to town.

Yesterday, among a passel of other stations, you bought Channel 13 in Rochester, New York. Congratulations. You’ve bought a heck of a station with a heck of a history.

And you’ve taken upon yourself a heck of a responsibility.

Which is why I’m writing this. The last time you were in Rochester – when you bought Fox 31 – you destroyed it as a news entity. The purpose of this column is to tell you that that can’t happen again.

The purpose of this column is to give you a perspective on what Channel 13 is and what it means to this community. That is important to you because if you damage the Channel 13 news operation, you will engender the deep resentment of this market, and your $54 million investment will quickly devalue as viewers and advertisers abandon you.

Channel 13’s news operation holds a unique position in the Rochester region. With the decline of the region’s once-dominant daily newspaper, and because of staffing cuts elsewhere in the broadcast sector, Channel 13 is currently the senior news product in our area. Over years, it has taken and held the first rank. That has been of benefit to the station and its owners, and to the people of the region.

Not that the other TV news operations aren’t strong, or that the paper has become completely irrelevant, but currently, in Rochester, the most-authoritative news product is Channel 13.

That has happened because of stability and quality.

Unfortunately, from your end, both those things cost money.

Across your new station’s news operation, there are people with decades of experience. Those people are dear to the Rochester audience.

Most prominent among these, of course, is your lead anchor, Don Alhart, who is closing in on 50 years on Channel 13. In other towns, the beloved older anchor is also often somewhat befuddled and is kept around as something of a sentimental novelty. Not so with Don Alhart. He is at the top of his game and is the best anchor in town. His abilities make him one of the nation’s best local news anchors.

He is your brand, he is Channel 13.

Across the rest of your staff, you have a variety of folks with long histories in town and significant achievements to their credit.

These folks are golden.

With your operations across the country, cost cutting is, of course, a high priority. You probably have a template of what a newsroom is and how it should be staffed. Compared to that, Channel 13 might be heavy. In the context of normal newsroom operations, Channel 13 might be wide and deep. There are a lot of people on staff, and many of them have significant seniority.

Please don’t change that.

Please resist the temptation to lop off chunks of this operation to make it fit a model you use elsewhere. As it turns out, one size does not fit all, and Rochester is not San Antonio or Cincinnati. As it turns out, in Rochester, we like our hot dogs a certain way and we like our news a certain way.

And Channel 13 is that way.

I would suggest that inasmuch as you have bought Channel 13 when it is at the top of its game, when it sits astride years of market dominance, that making wholesale changes in what and who people see in their local newscasts is not a good idea.

Resist the temptation to impose a corporate brand on this local station. Do not make Channel 13 do things “the Sinclair way.” Across the diversity of your holdings, accept the diversity of approach generated in different places to meet different tastes.

Please let Channel 13 be Channel 13.

If you do, the wonderful gem you have acquired will pay handsomely. It will continue to please audiences and advertisers. It will be not just one more of your stations, it will be a leader among your stations.

When you took over Fox 31, you broke apart the local news operation and farmed the newsroom out to anchors in another state. That did not work. That would be catastrophic if applied to Channel 13.

And it would unleash an outrage you cannot begin to imagine or comprehend.

Channel 13 is the voice of Rochester. Channel 13 is the heart of Rochester. Channel 13 is loved by Rochester.

And if you break it, there will be hell to pay.

So welcome back to town.

But be careful. We don’t want a repeat of last time.

- by Bob Lonsberry © 2012

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