Bauder, in his piece headlined “Weather porn? Storms take over evening news“, interviewed TV news consultant Andrew Tyndall.
Tyndall, evidently, believes straight weather coverage is too shallow for the major news networks. Rather than straight weather reporting, he argues, networks should frame weather events in the context of climate change. He uses ABC’s Ginger Zee as a pawn to make his point.
“If Ginger Zee reported in the role of climatologist rather than meteorologist, I would praise ABC’s ‘World News Tonight’s’ decision as a daring intervention into a crucial national and global debate,” Tyndall said. “Instead, she is more like a pornographer.”
This unflattering portrayal of Zee and her work is uncalled for.
Zee has earned accolades for on-the-ground coverage of some of the most devastating storms to afflict the U.S. in recent years, from Superstorm Sandy to the Moore and El Reno, Okla. tornadoes.
“I was left speechless by [Tyndall’s] comment,” blogged Mike Smith, a senior vice president at AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions. “Ginger is an extremely hard working, agenda-free scientist who does a terrific job in a position with tight constraints. Calling her a pornographer is beyond the pale.”
Moreover, Tyndall’s argument that ABC News should present the weather through the lens of climate change is not compelling. It’s notoriously difficult to link certain weather extremes, like hurricanes and tornadoes, to climate change. Attempts to do so, when the established scientific connections are fuzzy and/or contentious, invite criticism from skeptics. The resulting debate then distracts the public from focusing on and understanding the widely accepted impacts of climate change – which are the longer term changes in temperature, precipitation, sea level rise, and ice sheets, for example.
There is a time and place for climate change coverage (and I would argue more of it is needed on network news programs), but not always as a part of routine weather reports. As climate scientist Simon Donner put it: “The message of climate change is one of a signal emerging from the noise [weather]. Perhaps we need to talk about the signal at a more constant rate over time, rather than let our communications efforts go up and down with the noise [weather].”
Unlike climate change which evolves gradually, weather is dynamic – constantly fluctuating. And as AccuWeather’s Smith notes, the U.S. has the most violent weather in the world – inviting the coverage it attracts.
Intellectual elites may view the weather as fluff compared to topics like national politics and world affairs, but weather is something that affects and connects all people with the added benefit of being visually captivating. As Bauder reports:
“The weather is part of the national conversation and it is part of the news cycle,” said Almin Karamehmedovic, executive producer of [ABC’s] World News Tonight. “Increasingly, we see it that way”
Yes, sometimes the networks go overboard with weather hype, but there is simply no need to denigrate weather reporting and weather reporters simply because weather is popular.