Veterans know what the term means. It refers to being sent out on a story only to find out the story is pretty lame. Reporter or photog calls station, tells ND or Assignment Editor or kid producer that story is lame. Crew is ordered to do story anyway.
And you end up making chicken salad out of chicken you-know-what.
I will never forget being sent to cover what was supposed to be a "major protest." I envisioned picket signs, people yelling, marching, chanting clever slogans. When we arrived there were three people at the location, sitting on the curb. So I called the station. "The story is a bust," I said. "There are only three people here."
The Assignment Editor told me "we have to have a package" and to "shoot it tight." (Giving me orders in italics really used to tick me off.)
When I got stuck with a story like that, I didn't even bother with a standup because I wanted to put as much distance between myself and the bogus story.
As I watch various newscasts and resume tapes, I can actually pick out the chicken salad packages. They usually start with an exciting lead-in from the anchor, then fall flat with no video, no decent interviews, or both. Oh yeah, and no real story either.
So what's the point of my chicken salad rant? That people who never leave the station need to trust the people in the field.
Over the years I've heard producers grumble that, "Oh, they're just trying to get out of doing a package." Hello, McFly! Field crews who run into a story that's a bust are gonna have to find another package. Do you really think reporters want to have to start their day from scratch while out in the field? Trust me, no reporter wants to show up for a story and have it fall apart.
There's a difference between producing a newscast and stacking a show. There's a difference between filling a news hole and putting legitimate stories on the air.
The people in the field are there. They know what's going on, they can see the situation, and unless you've got two rookies on a story, they can usually tell if a story is "package worthy" or not.
So, for those of you who never leave the building, learn to trust your crews in the field.
Otherwise, you'll have enough chicken salad to open a delicatessen.