Saturday, 15 October 2011

What is weather 'news'?

We all know that exciting news stories sell copy and so one can't really begrudge journalists trying to put as much spin as possible on what they're writing. However, as meteorology is my passion and profession, such 'spin' is most certainly not welcomed by me.

I wish someone could explain to me exactly why the chance of snow in winter is worthy of histrionic front page headlines. Certain papers have been full of this for the last few weeks, giving the impression to the public that they should start running around like headless (or at least, scarf-less) chickens because it might turn cold again this winter. Snow in winter - whatever next?

What is of much more concern to me as a meteorologist is the fact that much of this 'news' stems from interviews and press releases from people who are not meteorologists (as far as I can tell, and I would be happy to be proved wrong - if I am, it's even more depressing).

If one was writing a news story containing information about some kind of new, deadly pathogen, surely it would be right to go along to someone who is qualified to pass comment about such a story, viz. a medical professional.

Why, then, does it seem to difficult to find a meteorological professional willing to pass comment in such outrageous news stories about the weather? I'll tell you why: because such professionals will give a balanced view of what they expect to happen, without hyperbole and ridiculous claims. This does not make a good news story of course, but the path to writing it would make good journalism.

What make me most angry about this is that when whatever is 'supposed' to happen doesn't, the public tar all forecasters with the same brush: "They (whoever, 'they' are) said we were supposed to get xxxxxx - I don't know why they just don't look out of the window/check the seaweed/insert other forecaster-belittling jibe here".

What can be done about this? It's hard to say. Many journalists are not sloppy, and so should take it upon themselves to source their weather information from reliable sources, i.e. well established meteorological companies, individuals, and organisations.

The simplest thing a member of the public can do, though, is to not take very much notice of over-the-top headlines. Source your weather information from reliable sources - you can probably work out who.