Civility, Correction, and the Weather Enterprise

When I was a cub chief meteorologist at a TV station in rural Texas, I noticed that our competition was using one of the credentials of our trade in a way that, while technically against the rules, wasn’t really causing me or anyone else any trouble.  Being the newly-credentialed, prideful kid I was, though, I reported the station to the folks in charge of that particular credential for violating their rules anyway.

Thinking I’d do the other chief a “favor”, I caught up with him at a public event we were both at shortly thereafter and “let him know” about it so he “wouldn’t be caught off guard” by whatever happened.  His response was simple: He didn’t have anything specific to do with that decision but that I should “do whatever [I] felt like I had to do”.  On at least one level, though, he seemed genuinely hurt that I thought so little of our relationship as colleagues serving the same area that I didn’t approach him first.

It was a real “stay classy, San Diego” moment for me.  I walked away feeling awful.  Shoot, it’s been more than a decade, and I still feel awful about it, especially since in every regard, the fellow was always and has been nothing but a class act to me and in the community he still serves.  I was and still am humbled.

That’s not to say we should let things devolve into a free-for-all where order and correctness do not matter.  Any community that is interested in improving upon the status quo must both adopt and maintain standards for orderly conduct and have a way for more learned members to instruct or correct less-well-informed on points of knowledge or etiquette when needed.  Further, the community and its members must be able to celebrate the successes of some even while learning from the shortcomings of others.  And we must do so within the context of our relationships with one another as members of a vibrant and diverse community.

Thursday was a great example of how this can work, as I watched a number of colleagues gently and reasonably inform another colleague of shortcomings in an explanation he provided on a public forum.  They did so not to embarrass but to educate not only our colleague but those who depend on him for information.  It was measured and respectful. The spirit in which this correction was offered was one of service to science and to our fellow weather enthusiasts.  I can only hope it was received as such and that should I ever speak beyond my understanding, my colleagues will reach out and guide me onto the right path similarly.

Adam Baker - http://www.flickr.com/photos/atbaker/2852985689/

Adam Baker via Flickr (CC 2.0)

However good this example, though, events over the past few weeks suggest our community, our Weather Enterprise, still has a ways to go — And I write this as a man living in a glass house with a bunch of busted windows and a stone in his hand.

If you’re reading this, chances are, you already know what I’m talking about.  That’s good because I’m not going to go into detail here, but suffice it to say, it wasn’t just one thing, one person, one day, or one forum, and folks from every corner of the Weather Enterprise got involved.  In some cases, it’s a tone that belies the façade of respect; a snarky, dodging response to a fair question.  Elsewhere, it’s a perception that some are gloating over the shortcomings of others.  There’s even been willful ignorance of respective roles of various members of our community, some straw-manning, and even some argumentum ad hominem and disrespect, too.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campfire#/media/File:Campfire_Pinecone.png

Emeldil via Wikipedia (CC 3.0)

Look, I don’t expect us all to be gathering ‘round the campfire, holding hands, and singing Kum ba yah all the time.  It’s OK to have disagreements.  We’re allowed to have different interests, goals, purposes, and audiences even within this big umbrella of improving weather forecasting, research, and understanding of ours.  The interactions amongst us — when they are civil, respectful, and productive — are what drive our community forward toward better forecasts, better warnings, and better service to our publics and clients.  And it’s great that, by and large, we who self-select into our community tend to be passionate about what we do and whom we serve. It certainly makes our conferences more interesting! Put more directly, we need each other, and the Weather Enterprise needs the diversity of approaches that arises from the unique blend of public, private, media, academic, and other contributors to the community.

However, I fear that we sometimes get caught up in whatever you want to call it — the moment, the heat of battle, the sake of argument — and we cross the line.  Our passion for personal and professional growth and advancement of our organization, employer, or “side” turns uncivil, disrespectful, and unproductive, and we harm the very relationships that make our Enterprise work.  In that moment, we forget that, whether it’s a technicality reported by an over-confident kid or an issue of deep import to our entire community, when we get down to it, we’re all people fascinated with the weather.  We’re all in this crazy business of trying to figure out Mother Nature’s next move together, and we’re all one event — or one silly technicality — from being humbled.

Every sailor knows that the sea
Is a friend made enemy
And every shipwrecked soul, knows what it is
To live without intimacy
I thought I heard the captain’s voice
It’s hard to listen while you preach
Like every broken wave on the shore
This is as far as I could reach
— U2, “Every Breaking Wave”

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Boring, Unmotivated, Non-local, Milktoast…Passion and Prairie Dogs

From Dictionary.com

[milk-tohst]  adjective:  easily dominated; extremely mild; ineffectual; namby-pamby; wishy-washy.

I wonder if we could hear from the corporate office as to why everything must look the same.

This is from Gannett. Can’t remember which market. Doesn’t matter, they all look this way.

gannett

I love taking pictures. I can’t remember the number of times I would dig down in my camera bag and find an undeveloped roll of film (film, by the way, was how us old folks captured images. Film had to be developed before you could see the image). The roll might have been in there for months. Sometimes the images didn’t matter. Firing the shutter is what mattered. It is a passion.

One of the great things about coming to a new market is you are less bound by inertia. “This is the way we’ve always done it,” doesn’t seem to mean as much. It is an excuse to push the edges a bit.

Frustrated with the graphics package I inherited, I started using some of my own images behind the forecast, taking a moment to talk about the shot before revealing the graphics. The prairie dogs are from a hike we took through the Wichita Mountains.

forecastthumbsThese images are far and away the number one comment (other than “Welcome to town.”) I get from viewers. At least a few times a week. This past week I was in the doctor’s office, dealing with kidney stones and clearly not at my best…baseball cap, unshaven and looking like death on a soda cracker. It is quite a thing for more than one person to come up to you in that environment and whisper, “I really enjoy your pictures.”

I’m not suggesting photos for your forecast. What I can feel is how my passion is being seen by my viewers.

We had a pretty good discussion on the topic of TV weather on WeatherBrains this week. It is worth a listen.

Welcome to your new market. Change course. Share your passion. It’ll show. People will appreciate it. (Let me know what you choose.)

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Let me…entertain you.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about information versus entertainment and this thought provoking post helped solidify a few things.  The piece looks at the Brian Williams event.  There is much more comment out there on news as opposed to weather and I get great value in substituting “weather” for “news” in my reading.

What Postman’s theory means for the modern anchor, of course, is that he can’t simply be a reader of headlines anymore, or even a witness to them. The anchor has to be a central character in the drama, so that all of us can feel invested in the story. He or she needs to star in the news.

I’ve written recently how fascinating it has been for me to start a new Facebook Page in the middle of this social media time, as opposed to having one evolve. Since this beginning of this blog we’ve talked about how easy it is for users to find, Partly Cloudy, 72.  The entertainment/social content clearly wins.

So, is the entertainment value all we have left?  Yes, I get the “we provide context” and “education” argument, and I agree, to a point. Honestly, I’ve avoided writing this for years, but, that fancy jet stream map you I showed on TV last night was forgotten five seconds after it left the screen, and it doesn’t work as a still image flying by on Twitter.  It does, however, give your audience a sense of security that you know what you’re talking about and that is valuable.

James Spann has been talking about his 4:00pm news format recently on WeatherBrains. Pam Huff, his longtime friend and co-anchor, stands with James in front of the giant monitor and you will see a handful of social media pictures, a non-telegenic map from WeatherBell, or some “meteorology” source, and the 7-day forecast.  James reports that the mid-age female demographic seems to like it, while the older audience hates it.  An interesting problem in my market where the older audience is clearly dominant.  The social media pictures are clearly the majority of the segment.  Entertainment.

I’ve started using my own photographs as the full-screen backgrounds for my forecast boards (replacing the horribly generic and outdated graphics I inherited from the parent company) and this small change has generated quite a bit of comment from users. Entertainment.

Somewhere in the last few days I think it was “get naked at work” day? Some image of a weather guy in front of the 7-day wearing only a necktie crossed my field of view. I couldn’t bring myself to pay any closer attention but, I think, it was entertainment.

I recommend the piece mentioned above and suggest we think about where it leads. The New York Times has reported that Williams expressed interest in taking over The Tonight Show as NBC planned to replace Jay Leno a few years ago.

I’ll leave you with this…

kevkids

It did really well on social media after a school talk. Let me…entertain you.

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Thud

Hear that thud? Another leg kicked out from under the old model. The National Weather Service Southern Region Headquarters is promoting an experimental mobile web page.

innovation.srh.noaa.gov/NWSwidget takes the user to a mobile ready webpage. Entering a zip code in the mobile browser yields a pretty good looking mobile site, and it has an hourly grid which is popular.

mobilescreen

And it resolves very well on a computer.

nwsweb

It is an interesting choice to not go with a standalone app. The promotion does remind people they can bookmark to the mobile desktop, I wonder how many users know how to do this versus downloading an app. NWS does gain the advantage of not having to deal with an app and iOS versus Android.

Take note…no ads.

Wonder how many legs on this stool of ours.

 

 

 

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Beaten By A Giant Elf

Every Christmas we watch the Will Ferrell movie Elf. It is cute and wholesome, and of course, funny. The company Ferrell cofounded, Funny Or Die, just released…wait for the punchline…a weather app. And…it is good.

humidity

Funny, I’ll broaden that to entertaining, is one of the few things we have left. Yes, I hear the “context” and “explaining” arguments and I believe them to be valid, to a point. My first news director said, “It is okay to use meteorology terms, every now and then. It lets people know you know what you are talking about.” But, your audience does not remember you for that cool jet stream animation you worked so hard to render.

That said, I challenge you to look at your Facebook Page. Check the reach numbers.

reachnumbers

You know, without my example, what gets the most engagement. Yes, rage against the common man for not taking us seriously, but this is the reality of digital and a world of infinite choice. They get to choose what they want.

I’m not suggesting…

comedytwc

What I am suggesting to our parent companies is to enable us to do what we do, on mobile. If we are why they come, we need to be enabled to do what we do everywhere. James Spann regularly decries the “crap apps” on WeatherBrains, and he is right, but they are crappy because they are automated. No personality.

So, I’m off to buy a fuzzy green jacket, wait, that will key out. Some yellow tights.

Hat tip to Nate Johnson for surfacing the app story.

Not sure if I’ll watch Elf this Christmas. My funny bone still stings a little.

elf

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Over 600 Of Them

I’m particularly interested in the state of “closings” on TV these days.

600

Last winter I watched the intro of a local newscast during a winter weather event where the anchor said, “Watch the bottom of your screen for closings, there are over 600 of them.” (emphasis only partially mine)

I didn’t wait around to count, but I’m not even sure you can get through 600 closings in a 22 minute newscast.  Do we really expect viewers to have noses pressed to the screen, like when we were kids.  Breathlessly waiting to see “PS172: Closed”, so they can dance around the living room before getting suited up with snow shovel, sled, and carrot for the nose, and dashing out the door.

We used to have a monopoly on a lot of things, but the Internet eats middlemen…..before going out for a full day of playing in the snow.

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The Parakeet Theory

Been thinking about the Parakeet Theory lately (no idea why).  It goes like this…

I bought a parakeet. We became great friends and I knew my parakeet loved me because he would sing and talk to me all the time. I loved my parakeet so much that I decided to buy him a friend so he wouldn’t be lonely when I was away.  From the moment I brought the new parakeet home, my first parakeet never talked to me again.

The Parakeet Theory was shared with me when I first got into radio. The lesson was that my primary focus was to be the microphone because that was, even though it didn’t look like one, was the listener.

The telephone (no smart phones way back then), was closer to an actual human. People coming into the studio, were going to be far more interesting than the lifeless microphone, and I would much rather talk to them. The same way my first parakeet found someone of his own kind…with whom he could have an actual conversation.

igbirds

Technically not parakeets, but I took this picture at the Fort Worth Zoo and like it!

 

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