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I don’t know about where you live, but today in New Jersey we’re expecting a snow storm, with forecasters predicting between 6 and 10 inches of snow. And in newsrooms throughout the area, reporters and photographers are pulling up their boots, buttoning up their coats and putting on their hats for a day of “exciting” weather reporting.
I’ve known my share of reporters and photographers and can tell you that “excited” is not a word they would use to describe covering a snow storm.They shouldn’t feel bad, because I can tell you that I’m far from “excited” about reading the coverage, because at too many newspapers weather reporting has become uninspiring and “predict”-able.
Rather then looking for new stories to tell and new ways to tell them, newspapers will dig up the same story ideas that they have used to cover snow storms past. We’ll have the ride along with the snow plow operator replete with a visit to the salt dome. There will be the supermarket shelves laid bare on Wednesday by shoppers who had feared the worst and the “brave” few who have ventured out in the snow to grab the remaining scraps. There will be the kids sleigh riding or shoveling to earn some pocket change, the story about the morning or afternoon commute and the interviews with commuters. Oh, and don’t forget the cautionary tales from the emergency room about the hazards of snow shoveling on the back and heart and the dangers of snow blowers.
Not exactly inspiring, entertaining or even informative coverage, agree?
But does it have to be that way? Does weather coverage need to be a) so print-centric, b) dated and c) boring?
I believe that editors should start by treating weather events (in this case a snow storm) as an online story and as the day progresses, pick the best and the most relevant content to appear in print. They should ask what would readers want to read the day AFTER the snow storm, what do they need to know about the weather event they just lived through and what would be useful to them going forward?
With all that in mind, here are some (basic) user-generated coverage ideas:
- Encourage them to submit photos for an online gallery with the “best” photos as “judged by the staff” going into the next day’s paper.
- Why send your reporters all over town to look at the snow and gauge how deep it is or how much has been plowed? Make connections with your local weather spotter group and empower them to be your eyes and ears on the street.
- Make connections with members of your DPW and have them file periodic reports (they all carry cell phones) about road conditions and plowing.
- Identify in advance people who have to go to work despite the weather and touch base with them during the day to craft mini-essays about their experience. They can run with a photo in a flash gallery or photo slide show.
For stories consider:
- How much does snow removal cost in your area? From the teen with the shovel to the landscape company with the truck mounted plow what’s the going rate? And are there issues (for example insurance) people should consider before hiring either?
- What businesses benefit from snow? Tire stores? Accident attorneys? Babysitters?
- What to do when your stuck at home with kids? Recipes, activities and more. (This story you can trot every time the weather is bad and put it online).
These are just some ideas to get you thinking. What suggestions would you have for newspapers covering snow?