In my “hiatus” from a 30+ year career as a broadcast meteorologist, I have a little more time to reflect on TV news and weather. When I venture out in public, I get a focus group of unsolicited opinion. I interact frequently with kids and adults in formal presentations and hear what they think about our industry. Here are seven simple thoughts that I think can strengthen broadcast news and meteorology.
1) Watch your newscast and weather segments with no sound to study the graphics, video, lighting and talent appearance. I’ve communicated with deaf people who have an entirely different experience of watching TV. Don’t forget the “vision” aspect of television, and that of social media too.
2) Without watching your newscasts and weathercasts, just listen to them for delivery, breathing, pacing, inflection and grammar. Blind “viewers” have given me their perspective on what we sound like. Rushed!
3) Analyze your weather graphics. Have they been tested in a focus group? Most graphics are pretty but are they effective? Did a meteorologist have input in the design? Is consideration given to markets that border oceans or Great Lakes where there are large areas of blue on the map? Lots of graphics have large banners with multiple elements. Along with more information at the bottom of the screen, it reduces space for the actual graphical information.
4) While each station tries to be unique in branding active weather, the variety of branding words and phrases simply confuses the public. Every type of disruptive weather already has a designation from the National Weather Service. A Heat Warning is just that. A Tornado Watch is just that. When every station brands weather differently it’s like one doctor telling you to take Advil while another says to take Ibuprofen.
5) Radar, satellite and weather watch and warning graphics colors are different from station to station. What would it be like if you traveled to different states and found they use different colors on stop lights? Confusing. Dangerous.
6) Meteorologists are not without blame in confusing the public. It comes about through rapid delivery, filled with jargon, especially for what is not considered hyperlocal. For this reason, some stations prohibit them from showing wide-view maps or weather fronts. That is likely based on research showing viewers are confused or not interested. In my experience, if a meteorologist is telling a story effectively, it periodically requires graphical context. However, your meteorologists have to be reminded that they’ve got to engage the viewer, not entertain themselves with graphics.
7) A positive thing many stations do, on the extended forecast graphic, is stagger the low temperature between two days so that it’s obvious which night it is for. Look at the extended forecast from the widget on your webpage or on your weather app. Far too many show the low directly under the high or with a slash following the high. In my experience and surveys, from those layouts, most people don’t know which night the low is for. This must be corrected by graphics departments and weather vendors.
Whether it’s news or weather, consistently give the viewers substance that is relevant to their lives, that makes them better-informed and saves them money, time or energy, while making them smarter and safer.
Alan Sealls is a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society. He’s Past President of the National Weather Association. He’s been a member of RTDNA since 1988.