Would You be Able to Tell Your General Manager to Leave Your Newsroom?

By Mark Willis, RTDNA Region 4 & 5 Director

One of the great things about being associated with a great organization is that you will meet some really great people along the way. Everyone has the best of intentions of moving the organization to the next level, either by capturing the latest breaking news, or securing the gear or the people needed to allow the organization the opportunity to try some new and innovative things that may revolutionize news reporting in their particular market. But despite having the latest and greatest in new toys or personnel, all of the efforts will go off track, if there is one ingredient that is missing.
That ingredient is effective communication between all involved. From the top of the management chain right down to those on the front line, the communication structure has to be in place in order for an organization to thrive. This is especially true when the General Manager gets involved.
Here is where I'm going with this.
A friend of mine is the News Director for large market news and talk station and he is having what may be a problem with the internal workings of his newsroom that now has some members of his staff wondering who may be in charge. The station General Manager is making his way into the newsroom, talking with the reporting and anchor staff about the way they are covering news stories, how the stories are written and even the type of voice inflection used when reporting the story.
Now a lot of you may say, well that’s the General Manager’s job. He has the right to come in and talk to people about what they are doing and what is going on the station’s airwaves. I will agree with that to a point with this notable exception. The General Manager first needs to step into the News Director’s office to ask them first about why a story aired a certain way or how the facts were gathered, and then maybe the G.M. could talk to the reporter or anchor and give them some feedback on a story.
The General Manager in this particular case is not stopping in with the News Director to express his concerns or applause about the way stories are handled. He is going directly to the newsroom staff.
Disconcerting? “You bet,” says my friend.  He tells me that some members of his staff are saying they are concerned the G.M. is now taking hands on approach when it comes to content, with many starting to wonder if there may soon be a change in newsroom leadership. I told my friend that maybe some sit-down meetings are in order between him and the General Manager to try and work on ways to improve the product. Until then, I think the News Director has reason to be concerned.
One of the important hallmarks of an excellent General Manager is to lead by example. By not talking first with the News Director about the content and going directly to the reporters and anchor staff shows a lack of respect for his manager and for the organizational structure.
The “end run” into the newsroom adds to the confusion for the staff as to who is in charge and may create an even bigger problem when it comes to covering breaking news. The News Director may not be taken seriously when it comes time for any disciplinary action. He is handcuffed.
In this case, the General Manager needs to stay out. Stay out of the newsroom and let the reporters and anchors do their job. Unless the General Manager is willing to work in a partnership with the News Director and lead by example, my advice is for the G.M. to go sell something.  Go motivate the sales staff and spend less time breaking down the organizational structure of the newsroom.  Let the professionals do their job.
The General Manager may have the best of intentions, but the best of intentions work when everyone knows what the intentions are.