AIR CHECK BY DIANA MARSZALEK

Sunny Forecast For Station Weathercasters

“There are, in my opinion, more good jobs in weather than any other aspect of the business,” says Rick Carr, a Denver-based attorney who represents news talent. Even stations in small markets, he says, will go out of their way to secure weathercasters blessed with a knack for accurate forecasting and a telegenic personality.

We’ve spent plenty of time exploring the woeful state of the TV news job market — cutbacks, skimpy contracts and stiff competition for too few jobs. But at least one group has apparently been able to hold its own: meteorologists.

According to broadcasters, agents and academics, weathercasters are still able to command competitive salaries, benefits and some measure of job security.

“There are, in my opinion, more good jobs in weather than any other aspect of the business,” says Rick Carr, a Denver-based attorney who represents news talent. Even stations in small markets, he says, will go out of their way to secure weathercasters blessed with a knack for accurate forecasting and a telegenic personality.

Carr says one of his clients just got the royal treatment when he signed on to become meteorologist of a family-owned station in a small market. The GM of the station flew cross-country to help his new weatherman move his stuff, he says.

“There’s no question that in a time when many [TV news] jobs come with a fair degree of uncertainly, the job of TV meteorologist is a better bet than almost any other,” says Bob Papper, a Hofstra University media studies professor.

“Part of that is because as TV stations keep expanding news, weather keeps expanding right along with it,” he says. “Every newscast includes weather, every one.”

BRAND CONNECTIONS

“If you’re not No. 1 in weather, you won’t be dominant in your market,” says Bill Hoffman, Cox Media Group VP and general manager of WSB, the ABC affiliate in Atlanta (DMA 8).

“Anchors are important; the everyday content is important,” Hoffman says. “But at the end of the day your meteorological team has got to be the most trusted in the marketplace.”

It must be pointed out that, as the overall TV news business has recalibrated since the Great Recession, weathercasters have not been immune from the scaling back of salaries and perks. Nor have they been excused from the expansion of responsibilities that comes with a multi-platform world.

In fact, their multi-platform duties — texting weather updates, sending out severe weather alerts, Tweets and Facebook posts — in many cases exceeds those of their colleagues in other departments.

It also must be noted that young graduates with high hopes of becoming a weathercaster are not necessarily going to land a good gig as readily as they once could, says Keith Seitter, executive director of the American Meteorological Society. The field is relatively small and vets are holding onto the jobs they have.

Nonetheless, meteorology is a warm and sunny place to be. Meteorologists are now at the high end of the news pay scale. Broadcasters have learned that they can’t afford to cheap out when it comes to securing a meteorologist who knows his or her stuff and is congenial enough to win viewers’ trust.

Mary Cavallaro, assistant national executive director for news and broadcast at the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, says chief meteorologists often command salaries as high, or sometimes higher, than lead anchors.

Steve Dickstein, a Philadelphia attorney who represents talent, says that the top anchors still draw the top pay, but that the meteorologists can take home more than the weekend and morning anchors.

There are plenty of reasons the weathercasters’ rising status. Research consistently shows weather as being one of the top reasons viewers tune into local news. Even on quiet days, weather segments take up two to four minutes of a newscast. And the time devoted to weather grows commensurate to the inconvenience and threat it poses.

In recent years, stations have increased their emphasis on weather, buying their own fancy new Doppler radars, branding themselves based on their weather coverage and, in some cases, moving weather reports up to the top of their newscasts.

Thanks to technology, forecasting has become so dead-on that weather reports can have serious impacts on people’s lives — especially in markets prone to unruly or destructive weather.

“We are in an amazing state of meteorology,” says Tom Skilling, chief meteorologist at Tribune-owned WGN Chicago (DMA 3) and 40 plus-year veteran of the business. “We are able to more accurately forecast than ever before.”

The progress in weather models, he says, is one of top 10 achievements in science in recent times. “We get the flood crests predicted longer and with greater accuracy. We have longer lead times for tornadoes.”

Meteorologists also say changing conditions — climate change, sprawl putting people in vulnerable locales — make weather a bigger news topic then it once was. They cite the events of the past few months: Mississippi River flooding, the deadly tornadoes that swept the South and the Japanese tsunami.

“Few stories in a newscast affect as many people as the weathercast,” says Al Tompkins, the Poynter Institute’s broadcast/online group leader. “Common sense might tell you that these jobs would be in decline as people have so many more choices about where they get their information,” he says. “But weather just keeps making big news.”

Weather reporting has evolved into an important public service, adds Skilling, who oversees a staff of 11 that supplies weather for all of Tribune’s media properties in Chicago.

WGN forecast the blizzard that paralyzed Chicago last winter a full week in advance. Doing so helped abate the effects of the storm, which stranded drivers on Lakeshore Drive and cost the city $400 million in snow removal and lost business.

Skilling credits his colleagues in the southern states with helping residents get out of harm’s way by forecasting the deadly tornadoes that touched down there last month. “There’s a real success story.”

More is expected of weather forecasters. Once best qualified by winning smiles and personalities, today’s TV weather teams are usually expected to have at least certification in the field, if not an undergraduate degree in it or a related science.

About 1,200 of the 1,500 or so TV weather reporters have degrees or certificates, the AMS’s Seitter says.

Meteorologists often double as climate and environmental reporters.  And when weather-related disasters warrant team coverage, it is not unusual to find the station’s chief meteorologist at the helm.

Having the right personality also remains important because meteorologists have more leeway in their presentation than anchors and reporters and more of an opportunity to foster “personal” relationships with viewers.

While accuracy, public service and credibility are all key components of a winning meteorologist’s package, the success of TV weathercasting still boils down to ratings, Dickstein says.

“Those who have profound knowledge and are very mediocre broadcasters probably don’t command the same admiration as someone who has less knowledge but is a crackerjack broadcaster. The business is broadcasting. It’s not weather.”

 


Diana Marszalek writes about local TV news every other week in her Air Check column. You can reach her for comment on this column or with ideas for upcoming ones at [email protected]. For other Air Check stories, click here.

 


Comments (9)

Leave a Reply

kendra campbell says:

May 17, 2011 at 8:38 am

It’s a sunny forecast for station weather folks because they are cheap and easy fill within the ever increasing local newscasts. The average news program has two or three weather segments totaling around 5 minutes. That represents around 25% of the content in a half-hour program (assuming a commercial/promo glut of 10 – 11 minutes. Weather forecasts have become weather hype – looking for some doom and gloom even if it’s going to be sunny and 70 degrees for the next five days. It’s laughable when the weather-hyper plays with his/her toys – making a big deal about some shower 50 miles away. Weather is a commodity. You can get reliable forecasts from multiple sources virtually on demand.. Obviously local meteorologists are important when there is a weather emergency, but 95% of the time it’s just boring, long-winded hype. The reality is local newscasts continue to expand as demo ratings continue to decline – and the weather-hypers are along for the ride.

    Wagner Pereira says:

    May 17, 2011 at 9:48 am

    Clearly you have had no access to any research.

    kendra campbell says:

    May 17, 2011 at 11:03 am

    Insider: If the research is accurate why are local news demo ratings tanking for most stations?

    Wagner Pereira says:

    May 17, 2011 at 11:27 am

    Funny how you choose to use research that supports your point of view yet any research that proves you wrong, you find the research wrong instead. Comical.

    kendra campbell says:

    May 17, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    Insider – let me get this straight. You are saying if qualitative research indicates weather drives news viewing is incorrect than the demographic ratings declines must also be incorrect. You need to get back on your meds.

    Wagner Pereira says:

    May 17, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    lol – you are the typical person who only believes the research they personally think is correct. Microsoft is down in its OS share and Internet Browser Share, Google is down in their search share, Cable is down in its basic sub share. None of which means the Companies are “finished”.

ALEJANDRA LEON DE LA BARRA says:

May 17, 2011 at 10:12 am

It might be a sunny forecast for young weather geeks, maybe even a few small market meteorologists; but it hasn’t been so sunny for legions of outstanding (but apparently too high-priced) weather professionals who have seen their television careers end in the last three or four years. I know a few of them, and I’ve read about the rest almost daily on these TV news industry web sites. The “sunny forecast” headline and theme of this story sickens me, when I think about all the really talented people who have given up and found other things to do.

    Wagner Pereira says:

    May 17, 2011 at 11:25 am

    Amazing how many people can ignore facts, even when quoted in the story from people in the know “Mary Cavallaro, assistant national executive director for news and broadcast at the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, says chief meteorologists often command salaries as high, or sometimes higher, than lead anchors.”

Jie Zhou says:

May 17, 2011 at 3:47 pm

jdshaw- go kick sand somewhere else. The bigger picture is that there are too many bottom-line owners that have no interest in serving the community which is why, even in markets where weather is critical, fabulous meteorologists are being replaced with people who can read a recap from “The Weather Underground” on ‘prompter. It would be terrific to see some of these stations challenged when their licenses come up for renewal. Have a nice day.


More News