editor on the verge

Online musings from the newsroom and beyond . . . by Yoni Greenbaum

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Snow does not have to blow

December 13th, 2007 · 6 Comments

NOTE: I’m proud to be participating today, along with fellow journalism bloggers from around the world in the Carnival of Journalism. In addition to reading my post please visit the Carnival host site and see what my colleagues are writing about. Not sure what a blog carnival is? Check out this entry on Wikipedia. Now for my regularly scheduled post:

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?

Tags: Best Practices · Breaking News · Local Newspapers · Online · Weather

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 ScribbleSheet Blog // Dec 13, 2007 at 9:28 am

    […] community can be involved in reporting, making it refreshing and noteworthy. Go have a look at his four ways and why not suggest them to your local paper. addthis_url = […]

  • 2 Ryan Sholin // Dec 13, 2007 at 10:26 am

    Why not get even more specific with the call-to-action for reader photos or video?

    How about something like a ‘Best Snowman’ category to give readers a direct thread from their computer to going outside and playing to coming back and uploading their images.

  • 3 JohnofScribbleSheet // Dec 13, 2007 at 1:02 pm

    Focusing on one point….

    “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.”

    Ideas like this have been developed (South Californian papers during the recent fires) but its still quite rare. Also check out Scoopt the citizen photo journalism site.

  • 4 Pat Thornton // Dec 13, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    I like involving readers in stories like these. I would ask them to submit photos, personal accounts and videos.

    I also like Ryan’s idea about having specific categories. I think these ideas would be great, because you are right most weather stories are kind of the same once we get past the typical how much snow was there, was there any damage, are there people without power, was anyone hurt, etc. If papers took user-submit content like this for every weather story, it would make each one much more fresh and original.

    I also think a database would be great. Why not track each day it snows every year and then users can see how each year stacks up, how each day stacks up, how much snow has fallen, etc.

    There are so many ways to tell stories that are much better than a print-centric viewpoint.

  • 5 A little recognition is a good thing | editor on the verge // Dec 14, 2007 at 10:50 am

    […] to share with Editor on the verge readers that snow storm coverage suggestions I made in a recent post have been included in the Dec. 14 edition of Al’s Morning Meeting. Now if you’re not […]

  • 6 Ryan Mercer // Dec 21, 2007 at 12:46 am

    This may seem simplistic, but since we get a lot of snow, our coverage more often than not tries to trend the actually severity of the event. So, if 10 inches of snow falls but nothing happens, oh well. Too many papers invent drama when covering weather — especially broadcast — when there just plainly is none or worse, they don’t commit to getting to places where real news happens during difficult events like snow storms and instead lead with soft news that is easy to get to. If you can’t commit to covering events like these with staff dedicated and equipped to get to the right places – within reason — where news of consequence is actually happening, you’re doomed. Because if a major news event occurs as a result of a storm, but your newsroom just couldn’t get to it, specifically the photo staff for whatever reason, that image of Timmy on his sled for the A1 center is going to look absurd.
    Soliciting reader content is great too, but it should not distract newsrooms from getting the job done right on their own. In my experience, the phenomenon of supermarket coverage and the like is fueled by ease. It is easy to hop on a plow truck, easy to get to the supermarket, easy to ask readers to send their own cool stuff to you. And that’s a great idea, especially for web content, but a newsroom should be 100% ready to delivery much much more.

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