Will Sinclair Ruin WGN?

It is possible that Chicago viewers will soon see legendary Weatherman Tom Skilling wrap up his eternally sunny weather forecast and toss it over to Trump surrogate Boris Epshteyn.

Sinclair is this/close to taking control of the Tribune stations and that also means they will own the iconic WGN.

The Chicago Tribune writes that if the deal is consummated and Sinclair's history is any indication, WGN, a station best known for broadcasting the Chicago Cubs, Bozo the Clown and decades of Chicago-centric programming, will be airing must-run Sinclair segments such as "Terrorism Alert Desk" and "Bottom Line With Boris."

"They will shift the local news that WGN puts its imprimatur on to the right," said Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters, a progressive media watchdog organization. "It will happen with on-air talent and the staff behind the scenes."

Karl Frisch, executive director of Allied Progress, a Washington, D.C.-based progressive advocacy organization, said the conservative bent of Sinclair extends beyond its must-run segments, with pressure exerted over the manner in which local stories are covered.

"For a lot of issues, anchors and reporters and producers will hear from the national headquarters on big national stories and they will be told this is how it's going to be reported," Frisch said. "Over time, these reporters just get beaten into compliance because it happens so frequently."

Analysts believe Sinclair will employ the same strategy at Tribune stations — including cost-cutting and conservative editorializing — that has played well in smaller markets.

"In an acquisition like Tribune, they've got some larger markets to contend with, but I don't necessarily think their playbook is going to be any different," said Tuna Amobi, an equity analyst with investment research firm CFRA in New York.

These days, WGN is perhaps best known for broadcasting 70½ hours of local news each week, more than any other Chicago TV station. That includes a six-hour daily block with its highly rated, sometimes irreverent weekday morning news program.

If Sinclair acquires the station, said Carusone, of Media Matters, viewers may not notice changes immediately, but over time they'll see "non sequitur" news stories that are a "reflection of Sinclair's national agenda" inserted into WGN's local newscasts.

They may also see some new faces delivering the news.

"There's a very good likelihood of ... turnover in the near future," Carusone said. "It's not just that they will be fired. Some of them will just leave because they don't want to deal with" Sinclair's brand of local news.

Steven Marks, executive vice president and COO of Sinclair's television group, said during an Aug. 2 earnings call that despite the negative press, Sinclair is good at local news.

"With all the news you've been hearing, the bottom line is people watch us in droves," Marks said. "We're on top of our game, and the biggest part of what we do is local news. We're the best at it."