MEDIA ROUNDUP: Weather is now on everyone's radar

A proliferation of media outlets has transformed the weather into a subject that garners attention well beyond just the daily forecast.

A proliferation of media outlets has transformed the weather into a subject that garners attention well beyond just the daily forecast.

It's often the butt of jokes, but weather coverage has long been a media staple simply because people want to know whether it's going to rain, snow, or shine, even if they can't do anything about it. "It's an evergreen category, but you're seeing more interest now because there are more media outlets," explains Stephanie Kenitzer, public information officer for the American Meteorological Society (AMS). "It used to be weather events would happen around the country, but there wasn't a media outlet nearby to air the home video of a tornado. But now you've got the internet and 24-hour news holes to fill at places like Fox and CNN so they're...doing a lot of weather stories." Susan Weaver, public affairs officer with the National Weather Service, agrees there's a steady interest in weather-themed pitches. "The economy is very weather sensitive." she notes. "To tell the truth, barely a day passes where there is not at least some interest in a weather story." Everyday interest It's not just major events such as tornadoes and blizzards that tend to command media attention. What's surprising is the audience for day-to-day weather coverage, both on local broadcast, as well as the dedicated cable network, The Weather Channel. Kathy Lane, the network's VP of PR, says the network is fairly aggressive when it comes to media outreach. "Anytime there's a weather recap story or a specific story having to do with weather, we're selling our expertise," she says. "We want to be positioned as the world's leading authority when it comes to weather." Part of that effort is spent getting The Weather Channel's on-air meteorologists on other outlets, such as recent appearances on Today and CNBC, talking about the arrival of hurricane season. But they've also gone beyond that, working with their agency, Stanton Crenshaw Communications, to pitch the network beyond the science sections. Stanton Crenshaw president Dorothy Crenshaw says, "We're not calling to pitch the weather. We pitch things like forecasting technology...and the on-air personalities because that's what sets The Weather Channel apart from other national weather services." Weather is also one of the categories where TV often exceeds print. Virtually every TV network, large and small, has a dedicated weatherperson with at least some meteorological training. Print outlets, on the other hand, tend to cover weather as a general news story. "A lot of the focus is in the paper's A section and looks at a current weather event, such as flooding in the Midwest or a hurricane off the coast of Florida," says Kenitzer. She adds that, by and large, most print outlets don't have in-house weather expertise, nor the time or resources to get them. "We love to do reporter education, because we found during the 1997-98 El Nino, there is a lot of misinformation that comes out about the weather," she says. "El Nino was described as a weather event and it's not. It's simply the warming of the ocean in the Pacific, but it can impact weather patterns." As far as the big picture climatic issues, PR pros generally agree that most outlets will occasionally try to tackle debates such as global warming. The problem, they say, is that there's really no consensus on the issue in the scientific community. "We haven't stepped into the entire debate, but we recently issued a report that said... that overall climate change is happening," says Kenitzer, of the AMS. "It takes us a long time to get there because we are a large body of 11,000, and we have to try to represent all of their views." Beyond the five-day forecast PR pros voice some optimism that the media is slowly growing more interested in moving beyond the five-day forecast. The Weather Channel recently expanded its programming to include series such as Storm Stories and Road Crew, which Lane says makes them more interested in receiving story ideas from PR professionals. "Years ago, we didn't have the latitude to consider that sort of thing and, much to my eternal regret, I turned down a pitch by the publicist for Sebastian Junger before The Perfect Storm became famous," says Lane. "Now we're 21 years old and evolving, so something like that would be a wonderful opportunity for our viewers to get more information." ----- media
  • Do reporter education with every pitch. Weather is a category where many journalists think they know more than they actually do.
  • Don't just pitch the simple science story. There's bound to be interest in everything from the people who predict the weather to the technology behind forecasting.
  • Some journalists are simply fascinated by weather, so develop a database on weather fans in the media regardless of which section they work on.

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