As the election loomed earlier this month, TV stations around the country were broadcasting the news. The same news. That is, the identical news:
"Well, the final days of the campaign can get a little salty," anchor John Pastorek informed viewers of WBRZ-TV in Baton Rouge, La.
"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.