While the public can get weather info on their phones and other devices, TV plays a crucial role by putting the nuts-and-bolts of weather reports in perspective. However, the abundance of user-generated content that pours into newsrooms via social media — most notably Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — has been particularly transformative by widening the breadth of what broadcasters can cover.
Despite consumers being able to access everything from radar images to government weather reports online, people still rely on TV to find out how severe weather will affect them personally, industry experts said Tuesday.
“People still want context. Are my kids going to school tomorrow? Am I going to be able to get to the story at 4 this afternoon?” said Bob Connors, managing editor of digital at NBC O&O WVIT Hartford, Conn. “People check digital and radars for a quick look. But I’m going to turn on the TV because I want to hear my meteorologist tell me what it means.”
Connors was one of three panelists who discussed best practices in weather reporting Tuesday morning at TVNewsCheck’s NewsTechForum, a two-day conference in New York focusing on news technology. Jeff Birch, CBS television stations VP of engineering, and Rolando Pujol, Tribune-owned WPIX New York’s executive producer of digital, were the other two.
Birch said TV plays a crucial role in weather coverage by putting the nuts-and-bolts of weather reports in perspective. He said that despite the proliferation of user-generated weather reports, including pictures, broadcasters still have superior expertise in everything from storm analysis to shooting video.
“Why do people come to TV in the first place? Because at this point we can still give them something nobody else can — professional people who still know what’s important,” Birch said.
However, he added that digital media has “probably been the single biggest game changer” for the broadcast industry, affecting both TV stations’ ability to cover the weather — and the way they do it.
Panelists said the abundance of user-generated content that pours into newsrooms via social media — most notably Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — has been particularly transformative by widening the breadth of what broadcasters can cover.
“TV used to be a one-way medium,” Birch said. “The public can now be our eyes and ears to a certain extent. And you can use all those eyes and ears out there to augment our stories — and respond to what they feel is important as opposed to guess what they think is important.”
Connors said the WVIT newsroom received roughly 20,000 photos from viewers during a blizzard several years ago, which “lets us cover a lot more of the state than we ever have been able to in the past.”
“We can only cover a certain amount of area but we have hundreds of thousands of viewers around the state who can take a picture of a fallen tree, or take a picture of their unplowed road,” he said.
Pujol, however, said using that content on-air is still a challenge for broadcasters, as there is no one proven method for seamlessly integrating it into broadcasts.
“It’s a technology problem,” Pujol said, adding that he is in the process of experimenting with tools to get the job done.
Panelists said the problem also stems from the disconnect between digital and traditional news departments, who have yet to wholly embrace working seamlessly together. “The marriage is getting better and but we’re working on it but we’re still not there yet,” Birch said.
In turn, it is not unusual for the content on station websites — or Facebook pages, which panelists said are crucial components of weather coverage — to be much further ahead of what viewers are seeing on air, he said.
“There can be a real lag when it starts to come in and when it gets on air,” Pujol said. “There has to be a way to bring that immediacy to television.”
Panelists also defended local TV against the bad rap it has for running wild with weather coverage, trivializing the dangers of real severe weather by reporting so much of it that is not.
“That one snowflake leads to more snowflakes and we still have an obligation to bring that to [viewers],” Birch said.
Connors said the volume of traffic station websites and social media platforms get both before and during severe weather — as well as feedback from users — shows TV stations are on target with their weather coverage.
“People say TV folks are idiots, but they want it and they look for it,” Connors said. “People are on the site, are on mobile, are on Facebook asking questions about their hometowns.
“They see the map, they see [the storm] coming, so, yes, they turn on the TV.”
To listen to a recording of this panel session, click here.
To listen to a case study from WSI on multiscreen reporting of severe weather news, click here.
To read more stories from the 2014 NewsTECHForum, click here.