Beyond 'Stormwatch': Better Ways to Cover the Weather

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Like the rest of you I just endured a week of “Stormwatch ‘08” and this time, rather than simply being bothered by how pointless the video footage was, I did the constructive thing and tried to think of some new or at least money saving ideas to cover massive snowstorms.

Here are the ones I saw on Stormwatch—again—that I think should be retired:

Talking to one disgruntled and one still-cheerful passenger at the snowed-in airport

  • Going to a hardware store to document the lack of snow shovels
  • Leaning into a car going nowhere and asking how bad the road conditions are
  • Interviewing Christmas shoppers while the equivalent of a jet turbine blows snow in their faces.
  • Skipping the middleman and being the station’s snow guinea pig, but this time, you have the yardstick!
  • Talking to the sanitation chief about the city’s supply of rock salt and available drivers. 
  • And don’t forget this chestnut: Watching kids sled or build a snowman

Truthfully, if stations want to save some money this year, I suggest this: Use file footage. One car from 2008 skidding into a guardrail is not much different than the car that did the same dance in 2004. You’re not actually documenting an accident. You’re illustrating a condition.

Kids have shoveled out neighborhood cars for years. You spent a fortune on archival capacity for your newsroom. And you did this story in 2006! Use it again. Just edit out the reporter you have since laid off.

Okay, now for some new ideas:

  • You know those exhibitionists who massively over-decorate their front yards for the pleasure of causing traffic jams on their streets? During a very windy storm, take a drive to visit them. I would suppose many of them are frantically trying to save overlit, unstable stuff from blowing away. A great Christmas story, and by doing it, others will decide not to decorate their homes like that next year. That’s worth an award from the NAB. 
  • What is it with rock salt? Surely, any science teacher could tell you but I don’t know why it works. Assignment: Ask any science teacher why rock salt works. If you get an answer, it’s a story all in itself. Kinda offbeat. If you can’t get an answer from several science teachers in your district, it’s an I-Team probe, once you actually get the answer somewhere. Who wants to miss the heavily-promoted  “Is Our Anchor Smarter Than A Sixth Grade Teacher?”
  • How fast can you go and come to a safe stop on slippery roads? This will take a stunt driver, or per diem employee, and the right street somewhere, but this is the kind of stuff that made David Blaine, and to some extent Geraldo Rivera, famous. 

Truthfully, it would be tough to be the assignment editor for a newscast looking for fresh ways to cover old snow. If you have any new tricks, write back. I know doing these stories are a pain. One winter while working at the Sun-Times  in Chicago, I had a veteran city editor who battled a managing editor newly arrived from some less frigid clime, and the city editor always found himself whining, “But Julia, it’s Chicago. It’s winter. It snows. It’s not news.”

The next day, invariably, it was on page one.

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