Storm Porn?

| July 1, 2008 @ 4:09 am | 10 Replies

Seems like I have to write a rebuttal to the Birmingham News just about every Sunday these days.

I don’t have any problem with them; I actually enjoy newspapers, although their business model is dying faster than a meteor streaking through the night (all traditional media is fighting the same problem; disruption from the Internet). Some very good friends of mine work for the Birmingham News, and I sure don’t have anything against them. They just seem to have a habit of op-ed pieces that hype anthropogenic global warming, or bash TV weather coverage.

Today’s op-ed piece is from Dr. Ted K, who used to work with me years ago at WBRC-TV, and a student of his at Jacksonville State University. They quote somebody from Canada who calls severe weather coverage on TV in the U.S. “storm porn”. I have a feeling that guy from Canada has never seen severe weather coverage on ABC 33/40, and quite frankly, his opinion doesn’t mean anything to me.

What does matter is the opinion of the thousands of people here in our state that use our products and services. I have received many e-mail messages concerning Ted’s article, like this one from Rick and Rebecca:

“My wife and I just finished reading the Sunday, June 29, 2008, Birmingham News. In the Commentary Section is an article entitled, “Storm Porn”. We both agreed that this was one of the most useless waste of newspaper space we had ever seen. What was the point? If it was an attempt to fire a shot across the bow of television meteorologists, it was a poor attempt.

I could make so many comments about this article, you would still be reading tomorrow. Suffice it to say, thousands and thousands of Alabamians depend on your severe weather coverage.

The two guys that teamed up for this article totally overlooked the fact that when severe weather outbreaks occur in Alabama, more often than not, multiple tornadoes are spawned and viewers watch their television just to be sure that the brightly colored line they see on their television does not spit out a nasty surprise.”

I am not sure of Ted’s intention in this article, but I do agree with him on two big points.

*Ted says the Internet will compete against TV as the primary severe weather dissemination media. I have news for Ted; we have been using the Internet as a compliment for our TV coverage for many years, and between this blog and our severe weather live stream, we reach just about as many people as the TV side these days. The Internet is not new media, it is media that now is a crucial part of the severe weather warning process. In addition to the blog and the live stream, we also push weather through social network applications like Twitter and Facebook. Ted, most Alabamians get weather information from the Internet right now (see the poll on the left sidebar of the blog!).

*We DO have a real problem with the FAR (false alarm ratio). Long time readers here know my feelings on this; we have to work together to reduce the number of false warnings. Crying wolf is a serious potential problem, and we are all concerned about it. But, we don’t issue tornado warnings; that is a function of the National Weather Service, and when they pull the trigger for a county in our DMA (Designated Market Area), then we go on the air.

Yep, we do get huge ratings during tornado warning coverage. I won’t apologize for that; the simple fact is that people here demand and expect long form coverage during tornado warnings. To give you an example, at 2:00 a.m. (middle of the night) on Sunday May 11, ABC 33/40 had a 16 rating and 36 share, which was more than WBRC, WVTM, WIAT, WABM, and all other local stations combined. This was during long form tornado coverage, of course. To get those kind of numbers at that time of the day on a weekend is nothing more than incredible.

Our station started the aggressive long form coverage here in 1996, when we signed on the air, and most other stations came late to the party after the April 8, 1998 tornado. We are glad they joined us; more people will get the warning that way. With most households receiving over 500 channels now, if folks don’t want to watch weather coverage, they have plenty of options.

So, call it storm porn or whatever you want, the show will go on. Both on TV, and on the Internet through this blog, our live stream, and social networking sites. People here expect it, and will continue to get it from our team at ABC 33/40.

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About the Author ()

James Spann is one of the most recognized and trusted television meteorologists in the industry. He holds the AMS CCM designation and television seals from the AMS and NWA. He is a past winner of the Broadcast Meteorologist of the Year from both professional organizations.

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