When President Trump announced at 3 p.m. Thursday that he would be pulling the U.S. from the Paris climate accord, the Weather Channel editors were ready. They turned the “official homepage of Mother Nature” — usually devoted to tornadoes, blizzards, heat waves and hurricanes — into a not-so-subtle protest.
“So, What Happens to Earth Now?” said one headline that appeared on its home page.
“Still Don’t Care? Proof You Should,” said another, linking to a story about “ghost forests” that are dying off as a result of rising tides and sea levels.
A story headlined “…and More Proof…” appeared, along with “…and even More Proof…”
“Or the Imminent Collapse of a Key Ice Shelf”
“…Or Antarctica Turning Green…”
“…Or California’s Coast Disappearing Into The Sea…”
The layout, though updated throughout the afternoon, stayed nearly the same through Friday morning.
The home page sent unsuspecting readers — including the millions of people simply checking the daily temperature — a pointed message: pay attention.
Climate change “is real and backed by science and is happening now,” Neil Katz, the Weather Channel’s senior vice president and editor in chief, told The Washington Post.
“We wanted to make that point very clear,” Katz said.
The idea was the brainchild of the Weather Channel’s senior homepage editor, Eric Zerkel. It came together “creatively and a bit spontaneously” Thursday morning, Katz said. The editors wanted to not only make a statement, but to create “something that’s more than the sum of its parts.”
More than 30 million people from across the political spectrum visit the digital properties daily, Katz said. This gives the Weather Channel a unique opportunity to break through, to give readers news outside their own “echo chambers.”
“We very intentionally wanted to do something with impact,” Katz said. “This is a story that people need to take notice of.”
And indeed, people took notice.
The Weather Channel is “not playing around today,” one Twitter user said. Some said the company was “heroically trolling” the Trump administration. “This is beautiful,” said another.
Dan Rather, former CBS Evening News anchor, shared a screenshot of the homepage on Facebook.
“When it comes to hard-hitting political commentary, you probably don’t think about The Weather Channel,” he wrote. “But check out how they covered President Trump pulling out of the Paris climate accord.”
“How bad is the president doing when even The Weather Channel has to call him out…” one reader commented. “I can see it now ‘WEATHER CHANNEL IS FAKE NEWS. SAD!’”
Many compared the Weather Channel’s messages to those scattered across Merriam-Webster’s Twitter accounts. In both instances, institutions traditionally considered destinations for basic facts have taken on political identities of their own online and on social media.
Still, others felt the headlines went too far, arguing the company was displaying a liberal agenda.
Hmm, I did not see a forecast for shade when I checked the Weather Channel app this morning. Yet here it is. pic.twitter.com/O85Uvl6zko
— Alex Weprin (@alexweprin) June 1, 2017
— Rep. Joe Crowley (@repjoecrowley) June 1, 2017
@weatherchannel please report the weather. There is way to much politicizing on tv already.
— michael salter (@mjsalter9819) June 2, 2017
According to Katz, Thursday’s statement was not about politics, it was about science — the foundation of the Weather Channel.
Since Katz, former executive news editor of the Huffington Post, joined the Weather Channel, the company has made significant investments to transform the website from simply a forecasting destination to a news outlet focused on investigative, in-depth journalism about how science, weather and climate change are affecting people’s lives.
Even though some of the website’s headlines and articles may seem apocalyptic to some, Katz said much of its coverage focuses on forward-thinking, optimistic stories about innovative technology and solutions to climate change concerns.
“It’s not just a tale of doom and gloom,” Katz said.
However, simply by focusing on its core subject, the company is inadvertently sending a political message.
Katz said this is an “unusual time” in which many scientists feel under attack. He considers it an unparalleled era in which even institutions entrusted to provide scientific facts are being questioned by many Americans.
“Clearly science has become politicized,” Katz said. “I certainly wish that wasn’t the case.”
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