Maureen Bunyan, a 46-year veteran of television news who is a co-founder of the National Association of Black Journalists and the International Women's Media Foundation, is being forced out at Washington station WJLA-TV, an ABC affiliate that Sinclair Broadcasting Group acquired in 2013. Bunyan is a 6 p.m. anchor.
The move by Sinclair, disclosed by sources close to Bunyan, comes just three months after the station announced the sudden departure of Leon Harris, a fellow African-American anchor who spent 13 years at the station.
Bunyan would not speak on the record. News director Mitch Jacob was not in the newsroom Sunday night and did not respond immediately to an email. The Aruba-born Bunyan, 71, joked as recently as last year that she hoped to become the nation's "oldest surviving anchorwoman."
The conservative-leaning Sinclair, based in the Baltimore area, is the nation’s largest owner of TV stations, with 173 in 81 cities nationwide. But it has developed a harrowing reputation among some of its employees.
When the D.C. market's longtime anchor Gordon Peterson left WJLA in 2014, Paul Farhi reported in the Washington Post that Sinclair "has rapidly made over the station in its more conservative image."
[Farhi reported Sunday night that Sinclair's "broad cost-cutting strategy" previously led to terminations of entertainment reporter Arch Campbell, sports anchor Tim Brant and reporter Greta Kreuz, and that "On Friday, in another cutback, the station laid off several behind-the-scenes news producers and photographers."]
Former employees have written online evaluations such as this from a self-described sales assistant:
"When Sinclair came in and bought our company, things just continued to grow worse. Our best managers either left or were laid off. High turnover rate with little to no replacement — more added work and less flexibility to schedule time-off.
"The work environment is very hostile. Managers tend to play favorites and company morale is at an all-time low. Workplace bullying is also common but it tends to be more passive-aggressive so executives can get away with it. . . ."
Farhi reported last month that Sinclair aided the Donald J. Trump presidential campaign in the Republican's battle with Democrat Hillary Clinton.
"A review of Sinclair’s reporting and internal documents shows a strong tilt toward Trump," Farhi wrote. "Sinclair gave a disproportionate amount of neutral or favorable coverage to Trump during the campaign while often casting Clinton in an unfavorable light. . . . News stories and features favorable to Trump or that challenged Clinton were distributed to Sinclair stations on a 'must-run' basis — that is, the stations were required by managers in Washington to make room in their evening newscasts or morning programs for them. . . ."
Sinclair has touted its partnership with conservative commentator and entrepreneur Armstrong Williams so that Williams can operate television stations, in some cases sharing advertising and sales staff. Williams became one of a handful of African American owners of television stations.
According to a biography for The HistoryMakers, Bunyan worked as a freelance writer for the Milwaukee Journal while at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. After attending Columbia Journalism School in 1970, "she worked in broadcasting with Boston’s WGBH-TV and later New York’s WCBS-TV. In 1973, Bunyan became the lead news anchor and reporter at WTOP-TV (now WUSA-TV), the CBS affiliate in Washington, D.C.
"After working on the Eyewitness News Team, she became a co-anchor with Gordon Peterson and remained in this position until she resigned in 1995," shocking viewers, the Washington Post's John Carmody reported at the time.
"Bunyan returned to school to receive her M.A. degree from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education in 1980.
"As a lead news anchor, Bunyan covered major local, national, and international stories, traveling to Central and South America, the Caribbean, Asia and Africa. Bunyan established a reputation as a clear-thinking, clear-spoken, fair-minded and dependable newsperson. From 1997-1999, Bunyan served as the chief correspondent for PBS’ Religions and Ethics Newsweekly.
"In 1999, Bunyan joined WJLA-TV ABC 7 News in Washington D.C. as a primary anchor. Five years later, she was reunited with co-anchor Gordon Peterson for the 6:00pm EST news. . . ."
Holder of several awards for professional accomplishments and community service, Bunyan was inducted in 2014 into the NABJ Hall of Fame. She has remained active in the group in her capacity as co-founder.
“The news media industries have turned their backs to diversity even as issues of social justice and equity are boiling over in the United States. Through 'Journal-isms', Richard Prince has served as the media and diversity watchdog in this country for decades. His watchful eye is needed now, more than ever.” —Jon Funabiki, professor of journalism, San Francisco State University and executive director, Renaissance Journalism