To Science Or Not To Science

Subtitle: Would someone please answer the question.

The question of how science-y to be during our weather segments is certainly not new but it feels like it has come up again. After a period of, “Yes, do more science. People love it,” some are hearing, “Our research shows that people don’t want all that science.” The pendulum swings from one extreme to the other but this clock seems to have two pendulums. This of course revives the back and forth discussion that includes, “People in my market love it,” and “Our viewers are not really interested.”

So, consultants, which is it? Seems like a simple A or B answer.

The problem lies in one of the oldest issues for mass media. Finding the lowest common denominator in order to attract the largest possible audience. This leads to broad brushed statements like, “Do more science,” and “Don’t do so much science.”

Time to let us see behind the curtain on this consultants. What is the methodology on this? You can’t keep changing your mind. Demanding use of more active words like “tracking” with no context leads to tweets like:

“…tracking when we could see some sun…”

“…”I’m tracking some light, patchy fog…”

“…already tracking a crash on 70…”

Stick around and monitor this stuff. We actually want to try and get it right but dropping these mandates and leaving station management to interpret is not helping.

We’ve rolled this around more than a few times on WeatherBrains and I’ve invited consultants to come on the show. They won’t.

I suspect the answer to the science-y question is do it some of the time, when it makes sense. But that will be consulted into “science on Monday, Wednesday and every other Thursday in months with an “r” in them,” and entire staffs will be marched into pen A or B. The real answer is here in this short post from some years ago.

So, ask to see the math when the consultant shows up. There is an open invitation to come on WeatherBrains. We’re all pretty scientific, we like to understand why. In fact, I bet research would show that we would really appreciate it.

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We Lost The Horizontal

There was a lot of angst a couple years ago about vertical video. “What are people thinking?” “Can’t they see that their TVs are horizontal?” We lost that battle and it kind of makes sense. You hold your phone vertically most of the time.


We’re going to create designated graphics for social with bigger numbers. The images formatted for TV just don’t translate well to the phone.

It would be nice if we got some help from the vendors (looking at you WSI, Baron) how about helping us format?


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The Aliens Are Coming

One of the human behavior books I read recently had an interesting story about aliens. I can’t remember which book and I will mess up some of the details but the point will emerge.

Some years ago a cult of people formed around the idea that aliens would arrive on a given day in the future. The group slowly gained followers and faithful in advance of the date of arrival. In the days leading up to the visit word about the cult spread to the media and, as sensational stories often do, the story became of greater interest to the press.

The prediction was that aliens would arrive on a specific date and time, late in the evening. The day arrived. Followers began to gather. The media circus set up their tents. The moment arrived…..and nothing happened.

Group leaders quickly began to adjust their calculations. They may have been off by an hour or two. Time marched on…..nothing happened. Further adjustments. One or two members became disillusioned and left, but most stayed.

The point of telling the story in the book was to described what happened to the cult members. Even after hours and hours of adjustments and excuses, and no aliens, a funny thing happened. The resolve of the remaining group members actually strengthened. They had poured so much energy and so much of themselves into their story that they were unable to allow themselves to give up on the effort they had made.

Aah! Crazy people, c’mon. They believed in aliens!


We got into a brief discussion about weather on Facebook last night on WeatherBrains (you can listen here, from about 13:18 to 21:15).

In a nutshell, the complaint, which has been growing in volume, was about the crazy and bogus weather information and forecasts that spread on Facebook. “So and so says there will be a major hurricane in Seattle next week, is that true?” We’ve all hear them.

The discussion turned to trying to figure out how this nonsense spreads. We all know how, look at Buzzfeed, look at the bottom of your station’s website pages. Sensational spreads. I submit that part of the problem is that the industry legitimized Facebook as a weather distribution platform and now we suffer the fruits of our labor. More accurately, the fruits of our non-labor. We ceded responsibility of digital weather to automated templates and succumbed to the siren song of the “Like” (read The Addiction of Like here). “We have to go where the people are!” we shouted. “If we’re not there they’ll get their weather information from someone else!”

James Spann and I argued about this for years, as you’ll hear in the WeatherBrains clip, and I was right. The image above is James raising his hand in defeat and remembering that he said a few years ago that Facebook was a lousy way to give and get weather information.

So, we can rant all we want. My suggestion is to leave. Renounce Facebook as a distribution vehicle for weather information. Yes, I know. We can’t leave. People still appreciate the personal connection, some of the information, and the entertainment we’re providing. I’m using Facebook right now for a community project. I get it.

The point is this. It is not going to get better unless we do something. We’ve poured a lot of ourselves into building this channel. But the aliens are not coming.


(Update: Thanks to @readydurham for posting a comment, please take a look. We need to remember there is no “right” given to any business to exist. The idea that we can take a tool and use it (in this case because we are being allowed by Facebook) is incorrect.

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Beaten By A Phone

Her Phone.001

I had a chance to visit with a group of news executives the other day and shared this story.

I know the man (I was not being flippant, just joking around). He is likely in his 60s, almost unquestionably grew up with local television news and actually is part of a program that appears on my station.

I was dumbfounded when he made the comment about his phone. I consider him a friend, he sort of works for the television station, and yet, he did not come to me or one of my platforms for weather information.

And… is not his fault. We’re behind.

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Hipper Socks

If you are old enough, you will remember that Pat Sajak, of Wheel of Fortune fame, once had a late-night talk show. The program started with good ratings but quickly faded and was canceled after less than a year and half. As viewers abandoned the show producers made changes, including adjusting the set to have the host sitting not behind a desk, but across a coffee table from the guest, and you could see Sajak from head to toe. After the show was cancelled he was quoted as saying he knew the end was near when some consultant, certain they could help, told him he needed to be wearing hipper socks.

slide bullets

Bullet points from a consultant presentation.

There is an equal amount of silliness and scrambling going on around local TV weather. We’ve been talking about the use of action words like “tracking”, severe weather alert days, crazy colortables and random indices quite a bit on WeatherBrains lately. Broadcast meteorologists are scratching their heads when told to lead the newscast, or do special cutins, when there is light rain in the market. The consultants are telling us that just about every weather parameter is seen as some level of “inconvenience” by someone and we should capitalize on every opportunity to breathlessly keep viewers on the edge of their seats.

Here is an open request, when visited with suggestions that we wear hipper socks. Politely say, “Why?” Respectfully ask to see the data that shows why these socks are better. Or is it just an overreaching opinion fueled by a fading business model. We’re all scientists, we need to see the research. Then share what you learn.

Or…is this a signal to double-down on our digital development? (What is the name of this blog again? Consultants, call me. I have the blueprint.) On Shark Tank Mark Cuban says, “If anyone is going to kick my a$$ in a particular business sector, I want it to be me.” He also wears pretty hip socks on that show.

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What good will that do?

I wanted to share two tales of RadarScope. Both are very important.

Some weeks ago someone, admittedly afraid of storms, asked me how to stay informed and safe in her home. We spent a few minutes downloading and training on RadarScope and she took a deep breath and said, “Okay, we’ll see.”

Two weeks later a mesocyclone producing thunderstorm went right over the woman’s neighborhood. When I saw her a few days later she thanked me and told me, with confidence, that she actually watched the storm go over her house. Knowledge is power.

Since it is springtime in Texas, more storms have come and a different woman came to me recounting how hard it had been driving in a downpour that reduced speed and visibility on the highway. I said, “Let me give you some RadarScope training.” Her response, “What good will that do?” Her mindset was that she was going to get from point A to point B no matter what. A week earlier another story came into our office about a traveler who had windshield damage from hail. Again, we mentioned radar training and somone commented, “What good does that do while you are driving?”


Now, we all know what the “good” is, prevention. Don’t drive through it. Pull over. “Turn Around, Don’t Drown” to quote some government agency we all know and love. But we need to think about this for a minute. The “What good will that do?” people are intelligent folks. They probably went to college. They get up every morning and manage to find their socks, and their way to work. So how could they not see what we see?

I’ve really been struggling with this.

Knowledge is power and previous to this time in history the knowledge of exactly where users are (indicated by the blue target circle on RadarScope) and where that hail core is, and where it is moving in relationship to them, has not been available. They have no history with this information.

Partly cloudy, 72 is available everywhere. Maybe this is one of the few spots we can still add value.

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Anatomy of a Weather Tweet


As we head into spring severe weather season, a review of best social media practices is warranted. With a great many “experts” and “consultants” offering best-practices it seems a good time to analyze what makes an effective tweet.

Let’s take a look piece by piece:

. (dot) – You’ll want to start every important tweet with a (dot) because everyone on Twitter needs to see your information.

@spann – Because everyone on Twitter needs to see your information.

Photo – Tweets with photos show 27% higher engagement. You have some flexibility here. A photo that shows you are “working for the user” is best. Try and frame the image showing radar and include your feet up on the desk to show that you are in fact working, but still casual enough to include some personality and give a sense of calm (wearing sneakers is another light touch). It is important to note here that the radar image includes well drawn arrows indicating the motion of the storms since a still radar image is next to useless. Also remember you can include up to four photos in a tweet so consider a shot of the green screen and a selfie with your anchor team holding station coffee mugs.

#tracking – Tracking is a consultant driven term that is sweeping the nation. Users are flocking to tweets using “tracking” because it is an “action” word that tells the user you are “working for them” and has a better chance of getting your tweet on the trending list. If you can squeeze in “track” in the same tweet you are obviously getting double the “track” traction without being repetitive.

ALERT – Will help get attention, particularly with those users following large numbers of accounts because not only do the large letters stand out, it is a sign that you are yelling at the user and need them to pay attention.

BREAKING – Again, all caps. CNN has clearly proven that BREAKING, or DEVELOPING on EVERY story has no EFFECT of DESENSITIZING the user, and, should keep a healthy ANXIETY level that will keep users TUNED IN.

#txwx #okwx #txweather – Location, location, location. If you happen to be in a market that covers more than one state you’ll need to give up precious characters for each state. Be careful, as we are in my market, to not give Oklahoma users the impression that the weather in Oklahoma is “Okay” if it is not. The use of the full word “weather” is also necessary (as was decided in a news meeting at the CBS affiliate in Dallas one day) because most users will not be able to understand the use of “wx”.

Looking Out For You – Obviously you need to use your own station positioning statement and remind the user you are “working for them”.

#pinpoint – Is rapidly gaining popularity with the consultant crowd and suggests accuracy. It is tracking closely behind “tracking”.

#thedress – Obviously this is gender specific, but if you have room for another picture use it. Men can substitute #necktieImwearing, with a picture.

#weather – Should be self-explanatory…because, you know, weather.

http://www.newsch – A link to the station website…..wait…damn it, too many characters. Hmmmm….. OH! I know! Facebook link!! Ooooh, I can feel the “likes” coming in now.


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