More than a dozen employees were laid off at KOMO-TV last week as part of national cuts at Sinclair, the broadcast giant that owns the Seattle station and others around the country.
Sinclair confirmed Monday the company cut 16 full-time and 4 part-time positions across KOMO’s TV and radio operations.
Several employees said the cuts included six people in the station’s TV newsroom.
The cuts at KOMO came as Sinclair laid off employees across the country last week, citing the COVID-19 pandemic.
President and CEO Christopher Ripley told employees Wednesday the company planned “enterprise-wide reductions across our workforce of approximately five percent,” according to an email reviewed by The Seattle Times and reported by CNN Business last week. A Sinclair spokesperson told CNN Business the company has 9,211 employees, meaning a 5% cut could affect about 460 people.
“From local businesses and advertisers to distributors and partners, no component of our business’s ecosystem has been fully shielded from the impact of the global pandemic,” Ripley wrote.
Because of cuts elsewhere in the budget, “staff reduction will be significantly smaller than if we had not done those things,” Ripley added.
In a statement Monday, a Sinclair spokesperson confirmed the 5% cut.
At KOMO, laid-off employees included, among others, a weekend sports anchor, two photojournalists and positions at the station’s lifestyle show “Seattle Refined,” radio station KPLZ and Spanish-language outlet KUNS, according to the three employees who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. While Sinclair confirmed the total number of layoffs as 20, two employees told The Seattle Times they had heard, either from management or from discussions among the station’s employees, that the company cut a total of 21 positions across its various TV and radio operations.
Another employee, who was among those laid off, said the cuts were the “harsh reality” of the industry.
“Unfortunately the people who make these decisions don’t know who it’s affecting. You’re kind of a nameless, faceless widget. You just hope it’s not your turn when these cuts have to happen,” the person said.
SAG-AFTRA, the union representing on-air KOMO employees, confirmed the station “did implement a layoff,” but declined to comment further.
The cuts took the station by surprise, the employees said. “We’d gone through a year of the pandemic. If these cuts were going to come, we thought they may have happened already,” one employee said.
In a February earnings report, the company said total revenue in the fourth quarter of 2020 was down 7% compared with the same time a year earlier, despite a surge in political advertising revenue during the presidential election.
Sinclair has also taken a financial hit on its 2019 acquisition of regional sports networks, writing down the value of those networks by about $4.2 billion.
Sinclair also faced criticism over directing stations to air right-leaning “must-run” segments. When the company in 2018 required local anchors to read a script about “fake news,” several KOMO employees described turmoil inside the station. The company said at the time its “promos served no political agenda.”
Frustration continues about Sinclair’s management and an expected conservative “slant” in coverage, one employee said. “We do our best to fight some of the edicts we know are coming from Sinclair management, but we lose a lot of battles too,” the employee said.
Employees said they worry the latest cuts could leave a gap in weekend sports coverage or increase the workload for remaining staffers. Some are already “doing the jobs of two people,” one employee said. KOMO cut 10 positions in 2017, including its Problem Solvers investigative reporting team.
Sinclair employees were also laid off at KATU-TV in Portland, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported Wednesday. Across Sinclair, laid-off staffers would receive severance, Ripley wrote in the email to employees, though he did not include details.
Information from The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.