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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 03/13/2009

Newspapers Dying; Weather Page Already Dead?

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In case you haven't heard, newspapers are dying a slow death. Actually, in some cases not so slow. As reported this week by TIME, the Rocky Mountain News has closed up shop, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, San Francisco Chronicle and several other major newspapers may be close behind. The Washington Post and New York Times aren't exactly thriving, either.

If you're reading this, odds are you're part of the masses who have left newspapers in the dust in favor of the Internet. I can't complain, since that means more traffic for us here at Capital Weather Gang. I do, however, have a soft spot for newspapers. I'm not exactly a career newspaper guy, but I still look back fondly at the endless hours I spent as a writer and editor for my coIlege newspaper, The Michigan Daily. There are few things more amazing than "the daily miracle" -- the extraordinary combined effort of writers, editors, photographers and others that produces a newspaper day in and day out.

While some papers will likely find a way to survive in the Internet age -- especially tabloid publications like the Express and Examiner that are better suited for toting on public transportation -- I wonder if the newspaper weather page has already been dead for quite some time?

Keep reading for more on the state of newspaper weather pages, and a poll question for you...

We learned last month from CWG's Steve Tracton about how Robert Fitzroy, the "inventor of forecasting" and ship captain who enlightened Charles Darwin on aspects of weather and climate, helped spur the debut of daily weather forecasts in newspapers in the mid-1800s.

The most well known modern-day weather page is probably that of USA Today, which has a storied history of its own. Personally, I've always found the USA Today page fun to look at for a colorful snapshot of the national weather scene and brilliantly designed graphics explaining how weather works, but short on weather information that is useful at a local level.

As for more locally focused newspaper weather pages, like that of the Washington Post, I fear they're in trouble for the same reasons the newspaper industry as a whole is in dire straits: Thanks to the 24-hour TV and Internet news cycles, much of the news found in the daily newspaper is obsolete by the time you wake up; and most of us have little time or need to sit down and read a newspaper after spending half the day procrastinating on Internet news sites (e.g., you, right now). Oh yeah, and the economy stinks.

Maybe more so than newspapers in general, the cards are really stacked against newspaper weather pages, which suffer from the following disadvantages...

No moving parts: No animated radar or satellite, no interactive temperature maps or hurricane trackers. Aesthetically, colorful maps and icons are about the best that can be done.

Doesn't update: No matter how many times you put the newspaper weather page down and pick it back up, the information doesn't change. Meanwhile, weather on TV, radio and the Internet is updated constantly.

No local personalities or expertise: With a few exceptions, most newspaper weather pages don't incorporate the personalities and expertise of real human meteorologists. Rather, for the most part the are fed by syndicated weather content from faceless national providers.

I also wonder how useful the standard national weather map found on many newspaper weather pages -- you know, the one featuring low pressure and high pressure and cold fronts and warm fronts -- is to the average consumer of weather information?

All hope is not lost for newspaper weather. In fact, I was surprised to find that the genre may not be completely dead yet. In a recent survey (PPT; see slide 12), newspapers lost out to TV, radio and non-National Weather Service Web pages as the most often consulted source of weather forecasts, but did beat out National Weather Service Web pages, mobile devices and the telephone (believe it or not, 936-1212 still works in some locations, including the D.C. area).

What, if anything, would you do to change or improve newspaper weather pages? Let us know with a comment below. And answer our poll question too...

By  |  11:00 AM ET, 03/13/2009

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