Excellence in Journalism 2014 | Nashville, Tenn.


Weather or not, stand-in speaker delivers the forecast

By The EIJ News

JON OFFREDO/ The Working Press

The session with The Weather Channel Saturday morning was planned to be a panel about the do’s and don’ts of covering severe weather.

Except the original speakers couldn’t make it — because of severe weather.

So Steve Schwaid stepped in.

The news director of Atlanta’s CBS affiliate, WGCL, Schwaid has years of experience with weather at TV stations.

“I’m the guy that sends you out in the snow,” he said.

Schwaid talked about proper coverage of weather and how newspapers could focus on more in-depth stories and not so much on prediction and preparation.

Instead of a story about a heat wave, Schwaid pitched an idea that would explore the high rate of elderly death during heat waves.

But while trying to reinvigorate the way print covers weather, he touched on the past of broadcast coverage — when excessive promotion can alienate the market.

Snickers and laughs erupted from the audience as Schwaid showed and narrated a VHS tape of an NBC affiliate’s 3-minute long promotion about its Doppler 4000 during the 1996 Olympic Games.

While shouting about your Doppler 4000, 5000, whatever is a marketing stunt, Doppler radar is a necessity to covering weather, Schwaid explained, and should help your viewers have confidence in you. When readers and viewers don’t trust you, ratings drop, Schwaid said.

“There is nothing more intimate in my mind then a TV station’s relationship with their viewer,” Schwaid said. “I’m in your bedroom. You don’t allow anyone else in the bedroom other than people you know, but that’s how I kind of look at it.”

To cover weather properly, Schwaid said, it comes down to how prepared the team is.

With Tropical Storm Hanna hitting the Carolina coast Saturday morning, Schwaid said his station had planned ahead and rented a condo in Savannah. And, of course, there would be the obligatory reporter out in the wind and rain.

The clichés go on.

Kara Sassone, an anchor in Bangor, Maine, routinely finds herself standing outside waiting for the snow.

“We’re out there all the time … but when it’s only three inches — what do you say?” she asked.

Schwaid said she should keep some perspective and talk to her managers.

“Life is too short to walk into work everyday thinking you guys can be so much better at what you can do,” Schwaid said. “Life is too short.”

Weather can be fun for journalists, he said, but can also be a serious, deadly business.