Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication Dean Christopher Callahan released a statement April 13 via email that said the school is planning on continuing recruitment with the Sinclair Broadcast Group, despite recent controversy.
"We believe limiting employment options – in any way – for students trying to enter a highly competitive field is not in their best interests," the statement said. "We vow to continue to give our students our best and unvarnished advice on all job opportunities, and will continue to vigorously lobby Sinclair’s corporate executives to appropriately address what we strongly believe is a seriously flawed policy."
But students and alumni of the Cronkite School voiced their disappointment with what they see as the school’s lukewarm response to the recent controversy surrounding Sinclair.
In response to a viral video featuring must-run segments at many of the 193 Sinclair-owned stations across the country, University of Maryland journalism Dean Lucy Dalglish and her faculty drafted a letter denouncing Sinclair. Dalglish sent the letter to journalism school directors and deans across the country, 12 of whom signed on that very day.
Callahan signed the letter five days after it was released following conversations with the broadcast group.
Associate Dean Mark Lodato and Senior Associate Dean Kristin Gilger explained the delay by saying they immediately contacted Sinclair when they received the letter in order to begin a conversation to address their concerns.
But 2015 alumna from the Cronkite School Lizzy Riecken said it “breaks her heart” that the school is going to continue allowing recruiters to visit the school, including recruiting events scheduled for April 15 and April 16.
She drafted a letter to the deans which stated “by allowing Sinclair to continue on-campus recruitment, you are endorsing these practices to your students.”
Riecken spread the letter to other alumni through social media. As of April 13, at least 16 alumni have signed it and sent it to the deans.
Riecken graduated from Cronkite with her bachelor’s degree in 2015 and accepted a position as a digital media producer at Sinclair-owned KTVL in Medford, Oregon.
“By hosting Sinclair at the school, I assumed that it was a good company,” Riecken said. “I wanted to do the journalism that the Cronkite School promised me that I would do.”
But she said the contract she signed with the company was unfair.
If a Sinclair employee leaves before their contract is up, they can be responsible for paying up to 40 percent of their annual compensation back to the company. The contract also stipulates that by signing it, employees waive their rights to a trial in employment disputes.
Riecken said students often sign the contracts because they feel they have few other options given a difficult job market and a lack of experience.
“It’s preying on students who really may not know better," she said.
Riecken became uncomfortable when her station was ordered to broadcast the must-run segments.
“At Cronkite, we learn about the importance of independence and journalism and transparency and Sinclair does not stand for that,” she said.
Lauren Handley, who also graduated from Cronkite in 2015, called the school’s decision to continue inviting Sinclair to recruit “a joke.”
“Sinclair is a trap and by allowing recruiters to poach students on campus, they’re being compliant in Sinclair’s efforts to build an army of broadcasters who spew their agenda-driven garbage,” Handley said.
When she graduated from Cronkite, Handley worked at a television station that was in the process of being bought by Sinclair. When she heard about the buyout, she started planning her exit strategy. Now, she works in public relations.
Handley said that by allowing continued recruitment, Cronkite is putting their students at risk.
“New graduates are easy prey for Sinclair,” she said. “If Cronkite cares about its students, they’ll be completely transparent and help lead their journalists on the right, ethical path. Bottom line is the deans need to practice what they preach.”
One Cronkite faculty member went on the offensive against Sinclair as soon as fervor over the must-run segments erupted.
Dan Gillmor, a professor of practice and director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship, tweeted on April 2 that if "a journalism student asked my advice on whether to join a Sinclair station, my response would be brief: Don't, for all kinds of reasons."
Dom DiFurio, a producer at Dallas Morning News and Cronkite alumni, said in light of the Sinclair controversy “journalists all over are in a real ethical predicament.”
He hopes that Cronkite faculty members take action by being upfront about the reality of Sinclair contracts.
“I would like to see the staff at Cronkite, at the very least, be upfront about the predatory contracts Sinclair stations offer to employees as well as the biased sentiments that the stations push — and that Cronkite itself teaches is unethical — if they continue working with their recruiters.”
And it isn’t only alumni joining the uproar. Tyler Paley, a graduate student in sports journalism, sent an email on Friday morning to Mike Wong, Cronkite’s Director of Career Services.
Paley was signed up for the Sinclair recruiting events happening on April 15 and April 16 but he said he couldn’t go through with the interviews because of what Sinclair stands for.
“Your educators, alumni and students deserve better,” Paley’s e-mail read.
Grace Clark, a Cronkite graduate student who works as a teaching assistant and hopes to be employed at Cronkite in her future career, has a different opinion.
“I don’t believe it’s ASU’s role or responsibility to censor potential employers from providing recruitment information to anyone seeking employment,” Clark said.
The State Press reached out to Sinclair Broadcast Group for comment, but Sinclair did not immediately respond.
Editor’s Note: Fortesa Latifi is a graduate student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The State Press is an editorially independent student-run news organization, and the Cronkite School plays no role in the publication’s news gathering, editing or publication process.