We promise this situation will happen to you. It happened to us at several stations, in small to large markets. General Manager walks into an editorial meeting and says “So what are we doing to cover such and such, ( fill-in the blank, new road widening project, special session by legislature, tax incentive package for a new industry in town etc.) since our viewers the tax payers are getting screwed.” The news director gives a blank look followed by the lifted eyebrow smirk, then stares at you, “So how will you cover that story today?”
If this happens, say you are going to make some calls and get out of the room pronto. Better yet, grab your photog and get out of the building while you make those calls! Why? You do not want the GM to start going off on specific players and agendas for the story. You do not want specifics on how this story should be told, and exactly what the tease will say. That way, if it is the GM skimming headlines and misinterpreting reality, you won’t end up having to tell him/her. Without specifics chances are you can find some small nugget to package.
Next, call the newsroom mega brain. You know, the walking, talking, human factoid! This person can save you hours of stress and research. Do the necessary ego stroke and get the person to give you background information on this subject. You need time to work sources for a backup in case the story falls apart. The “human factoid” usually can at least provide the name and number for a player in town who will give you insight on whether the GM’s “news” really is “news.”
Do your thing, work it and try to find an interesting character or bit of video to showcase so you can get by. If there’s just nothing to the story give the basics, then try and include a little subtle perspective in your anchor intro or tag. Managers tend to play in that copy more anyway. This way, if the story is taken out of context and the GM gets a call, it will more likely become management’s problem instead of the reporter’s failing.
If you cannot find a nugget to package, and there’s simply nothing to the story, offer to write a vo or vo/sot and let your manager know early. That gives management time to derail the GM situation well before the newscast airs. It helps if you can offer an interesting alternative story the manager can have you churn out instead. Sometimes management will then take the GM “news” burden off of you and have an anchor front it somewhere cool on set. You are off the hook, and the GM still feels heard without the station blowing a weak story out of proportion.
If you are told to package a story and say certain things in a tease you don’t like, try and do a subtle rewrite. Also, know this happens to everyone from time to time. Chances are your credibility is not ruined. Those in the know in town realize you got stuck “being the good soldier.”