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Lifestyle

November 28, 2012

TELEVISION: When 'local' news comes from somewhere else

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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 website 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.

The canned TV packages are somewhat like the news service stories that many newspapers and Web sites publish, but with a key difference: Unlike news service material, which usually is labeled as such, TV stations typically run affiliate material without identifying its source.

Stations do so because they want viewers to associate the coverage with the station, not with a distant news organization, says Paul Friedman, a former network news executive who teaches journalism at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. Sometimes, he says, the service will blur the sourcing further by "customizing" a generic report by dubbing in each station's call letters at the end of a segment ("For WTV News10, this is Jane Doe reporting . . .").

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