“The final days of the campaign can get a little salty,” related anchor Cami Mountain of WAOW-TV in Wausau, Wis.
“The final days of the campaign can get a little salty,” said anchor Kim Stephens of KMPH-TV in Fresno, Calif.
The striking thing about this news wasn’t so much that at least a dozen stations in cities large and small all carried the same lightweight story about restaurants cooking up candidate-inspired drinks and dishes (hence, “salty”). It was that at least a dozen stations carried the identical script, with a dozen anchormen and women rendering the same words.
So striking that Conan O’Brien strung all the copycat clips together and played them for comedic effect on his nightly TV show on TBS.
Conan has done the local-news-anchors-reading-from-the-same-script bit several times before, such as a hilarious compilation of them earlier this year with TV anchors asking the all-important question, “Is it time for dogs to have a social network of their own?”
How exactly does this happen? And why does it keep happening?
The answer is one of the little-known facts about “local” TV news: In some instances it isn’t local at all.
The “salty” story was produced by an “affiliate service,” CNN Newsource, and syndicated to dozens of stations around the country. Stations not only get prepackaged footage from such services, but a script that introduces the footage, as well. Stations then “localize” the canned package by having one of their anchors read the one-size-fits-all copy.
Viewers typically have no idea that a seemingly local story has come from a centralized source in New York, Los Angeles or, in this case, Washington. The CNN Newsource story, for example, doesn’t mention CNN Newsource or CNN, its parent company. The reporter on the story simply signed off, “In Washington, I’m Karin Caifa.” (Caifa and CNN Newsource were also behind the widely played story about “social networking” for dogs via a Web site that connects pet owners.)
CBS’s affiliate service, called CBS Newspath, produced a piece last year about Conan O’Brien that became raw material for another clip job on Conan’s show. The story was about O’Brien’s plan to be the officiant in the marriage of a same-sex couple on his program. More than a dozen stations ran the story with the same scripted intro from the CBS service: “Conan O’Brien may be about to push the envelope on late-night television.”
In addition to the major networks, which run their own affiliate services, syndicated shows such as “Entertainment Tonight” and “Access Hollywood” also provide local stations with ready-made scripts and interview packages for their local newscasts, says Mike Cavender, executive director of the Radio Television Digital News Association, a Washington-based trade association. The material not only gives a station in, say, Boise or Wichita a Hollywood connection but also promotes the syndicated show, which usually airs after a station’s 6 p.m. newscast.