Tim Heller, Media Weather Consultant
When it comes to breaking news, many newsrooms follow a Digital First philosophy. Instead of holding news stories for the next newscast, the latest details are published immediately online, usually followed by a push alert.
“Digital First” isn’t a new term. Steve Buttry, the late Director of Student Media at the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University, wrote about it in his blog back in 2011.
Today you are likely to hear Digital First uttered in daily editorial meetings and find it included in employment listings. In the 2019 RTDNA/Hofstra University Newsroom Survey, many of the respondents mentioned “digital first” when asked about newsroom innovation.
When it comes to the weather, Digital First isn’t enough. The problem is weather is always changing. To ensure online content reflects these changes, local TV stations should adopt what I call a “Digital Now” strategy.
Now, Not Earlier Today
From a website user’s point of view, “now” is whenever they click online. At that moment, they should find stories and webcasts that represent the current weather situation along with the updated forecast.
That might seem obvious. However, a random sampling of local TV websites reveals a surprising number of stations simply upload the weather segment from the last newscast. Top stories often focus on severe weather warnings that expired hours ago. Featured weather graphics sometimes have nothing to do with the current weather situation. That isn’t Digital Now. That’s Digital Last Night or Digital Earlier Today.
Just as the weather is the number one reason people still watch local TV news, it can potentially be the reason someone checks a TV station website or app. If they find outdated information, what are the chances they’ll return?
Forecasting Changes in Coverage
Despite the name, a Digital Now strategy doesn’t mean posting content about the current weather. That would be outdated seconds after you publish. Instead, think ahead and create content that accommodates any expected changes in the weather.
This approach requires careful planning and organization. The weather team must be involved in this process since they know the forecast.
Here are some suggestions on how to produce Digital Now weather content:
Establish a written schedule for regular updates.
Produce webcasts that advance the forecast through the next scheduled update.
Preproduce feature graphics that are ready to post online when the weather changes.
During breaking weather, publish one story with text that anyone on the team can update with the latest threats and impacts, timing and amounts.
When rain or thunderstorms develop in the local area, even non-severe storms, push the weather story and radar link to the top of the website.
Digital Now doesn’t replace Digital First
You can be first and current at the same time. Digital Now means always thinking about the person who is just checking the website or station app and making sure the information they find is relevant to the current situation.
The future for local TV stations relies on establishing a robust digital presence and secondary revenue stream. Similar to broadcast, weather content is an integral part of that business plan. To be successful on digital platforms, broadcast meteorologists must ensure online information is reliable, compelling, and always serves the user. Right now.