Welcome to the Vital Integrities Blog

Local Reality TV

I'm looking out my window at a nippy, but beautiful, morning. The sun is shinning in a cloudless blue sky, and the first wave of robins is busy settling in. Why is this meaningful? Because, for the past five days, local television weather forecasters predicted that we would awaken today to four inches of freshly fallen snow. In other words, they were wrong. Again.

Weather forecasting, once an easy way to fill five minutes on a local news broadcast, is transforming the six o'clock news into reality TV. Network affiliates, which used to compete to be their area's preferred "news station," now market themselves as "weather stations." Meteorologists don't transmit from a studio anymore; they come to us "live from the weather center," conjuring up images of scientists sequestered away, scouring weather maps with military precision. And they no longer rely on simple radar; they now use Doppler. But not just your run-of-the-mill Doppler; it's now Super-Digital-Pinpoint-Triple-Bigfoot-Skytrak-Accu-Doppler. Unfortunately, the "reality" is forecasters still get it wrong at least 20 percent of the time.

Here's why this bothers me so much. I can accept that even the best forecasters will be wrong one out of five times. But TV stations are using weather to generate ratings, and ratings come from sensational stories. Meteorologists are "creating news" with their dire forecasts and reporting their grim predictions as fact. And, in today litigious society, we force people to react to those reports to avoid lawsuits if they don't. For instance, school systems must respond to heavy snow forecasts by keeping their buses off the roads, so that means closing schools. Local governments must deploy snowplows to await the storm on highway roadsides; otherwise, we won't blame the storm for traffic accidents, we'll blame the government for not being ready. News shows are pumping up their ratings at our financial expense.

But here's my biggest concern: because TV forecasters are sacrificing their for ratings, people will stop paying attention. Like every other business, the buck stops at the top. Leaders of local stations must prevent their news departments from exaggerating weather forecasts. Otherwise, people will one day tragically attribute a critical warning to a sweeps month ploy.
Bookmark this post on del.icio.us

What do you think? Post a Comment
Vital Integrities Blog - Blogged