by Tim Heller, Talent Coach and Weather Content Consultant
Broadcast meteorologists spend all day asking questions. Where will the path of a storm track? How much rain with that system produce? But there is one more key question every meteorologist should ask before going on air. It’s a question I’ve asked myself, interns I’ve mentored weather teams I’ve worked with hundreds of times.
That one question: How does this benefit the viewer?
Taking time to answer that question can ensure the work broadcast meteorologists do always connects with the consumer. It can help them determine what to include in their on-air weathercasts and what to leave out. It can also help them produce compelling digital content and engaging social media content. The implication behind the question is this: if it doesn't benefit the viewer, you don't need it.
"I do recall you asking me that as an intern," says Kaiti Blake, the weekend evening meteorologist at KSAT in San Antonio. Blake was my intern during the summer of 2012. Like every student I mentored, the question of how her weathercasts benefit the viewer came up early and often. It's something she still thinks about.
"I find that when I put my shows together with that idea in mind, I end up having fewer graphics in my shows. I'm more intentional with what I show. I'd say it really improves the quality of my weathercasts."
FIRST GET OUT OF THE WEATHER CENTER
Most TV weather centers are located in the cool, dark corner of the studio. Here the weather team forecasts the weather and tracks storms, creates graphics, produces and anchors multiple hits, develops digital content, and updates social media. Broadcast meteorologists juggle six different jobs all day long. No wonder they rarely come out of the weather center!
After spending all day immersed in weather data, it's natural to think consumers are interested in the location of the low pressure, the strength of the upper ridge, and the flow of moisture in the water vapor. What consumers really want to know is how the weather represented by the data will affect their plans, their job, and their family. When broadcast meteorologists think about that, it changes everything.
"At the end of the day, our job is to help people understand how the weather will impact them," says Travis Herzog.
Herzog and I worked together for several years when I was the chief meteorologist at KTRK in Houston, a position he now holds. "By asking the simple question, 'How does this benefit the viewer?' you'll be able to quickly discern if what you're about to show them will cut through with clarity or leave them in a cloud of confusion."
Thinking about how the weather content benefits the viewer applies to the whole weathercast, as well as the individual graphics and the elements or layers within each graphic.
"As meteorologists, we're used to looking at the data and often multiple layers at one time," says Herzog. "The average viewer doesn't do that. They need a map or graphic that is simple, clear, and loudly speaks the message you intend to get across."
NOW ASK YOUR FOLLOW UP QUESTION
Translating weather data into weather stories requires mental calisthenics, forcing meteorologists to switch from the brain's analytical left side to the creative right side. Numbers must become words. Data must become pictures. That's not easy to do.
I recently started asking my coaching clients an additional question that provides a bit more guidance and forces them to consider more detailed answers: "What does the viewer want and need to know about the weather right now?"
This question is more difficult because the answer changes by the hour. However, it compels broadcast meteorologists to focus on the immediate, essential information and “deliver the message” in every weathercast, every day, on every platform.
NEXT DO WHAT WEATHER APPS CAN’T
Weather is still the most important part of the newscast, but no one needs to watch TV to check the weather these days. Updated forecasts are available on every smartphone.
These electronic devices, however, only display data. What's missing is the interpretation, explanation and recommendations that broadcast meteorologists can provide. Therein lies the opportunity to serve viewers by providing meaningful information that keeps them safe during severe weather and helps them live a happy, healthy life.
Now more than ever, broadcast meteorologists must produce weather hits that deliver essential information and demonstrate expertise, develop digital content that complements and supplements the on-air coverage, and publish social media posts that keep viewers engaged. Everything they produce, publish, and share should benefit the viewer by providing information they want and need to know about the weather right now.
As Herzog says, "There's too much noise created by the onslaught of information consumed through our screens. Make sure your message comes through with clarity when it really counts."