How TV News Can Break Groundhog Day Weather Coverage

Here in the Great Lakes region, weather forecasters are calling for a “big” snowstorm to hit on February 2nd. Yes, appropriately enough, on Groundhog Day.

I’m hearing from a lot of people I know that TV news looks like a Hollywood parody of itself as it reports on the impending “doom.” While many seem to complain, one thing is true – local TV ratings go up on days where severe weather is being forecast or reported. As a broadcasting veteran told me early in my career, “weather is the only story that affects everyone, every day.”

Broadcasters are often accused of hyperbole on days like this and sometimes, it’s deserved. I actually witnessed a TV news director, when I was a producer, order an on-air meteorologist to “sell” a storm that he didn’t think was actually coming. But, there’s no question that no matter where you live, when it snows enough to make travel difficult, it throws off your life, if only temporarily. School closures are enough to cause family stress on multiple levels. If it really does snow a foot, even here in a cold climate, that’s enough to virtually shut down a community of nearly 5 million people, at least for a while.

Think about it, what is the most common topic on your Social Media feeds every day? Yes, people complaining about or bragging about the weather where they live. It has become as cliche as cheering Friday or whining about Monday. As boring as it is, it’s what we call “the lowest common denominator.”

So we know you’re going to watch TV when bad weather approaches, but what would help? Actually, how about two fundamentals of public relations? In PR, we talk about keeping the message simple and being accurate. It’s time for media (and, based on public opinion, TV stations in particular) to keep it simple and get it right. If they can’t do that, news consumers will continue their migration to their other screens – their computer and their smartphones – to get the facts without the feel of hype.