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Weather nerds and local news directors will probably protest, but everyday weather coverage in Hawaii is primarily a business product, not a journalistic one. It fills the daily airtime hole. It’s always there, taking up space. It provides a competitive advantage during extreme events. Its on-air chatter also makes the news seem like a quaint conversation with friends.
Yet it also takes that airtime away from other potential stories, simultaneously sucking already-scarce journalistic resources from more substantial issues of public concern in this state.
Serious climate news can be essential and warranted. Hurricane Matthew, for example, which recently hit the Southeastern U.S., may have caused about $10 billion in damage, according to a recent report by the Associated Press. If a hurricane was bearing down on Hawaii, flash floods were projected or temperatures were going to be unusually hot or cold, such events clearly would be newsworthy. Journalists would spring into action, just like they do with other types of breaking stories about politics, crime, special events and so forth.
Breaking news: It’s another sunny day in Honolulu.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Understanding the subtleties of the weather on the islands also is an important and integral part of daily life here, from knowing the height of the surf to the direction and speed of the winds. But when examined carefully against the competition, TV weather segments no longer stack up well in this field, so it’s time to rethink the industry’s commitment to them.
When I search on Google for “weather in Manoa” from my desktop computer, for example, a large and detailed graphic appears instantly showing me temperature, precipitation, wind, etc., in just this specific area from The Weather Channel’s weather.com, plus results from several other sites, including University of Hawaii’s Department of Meteorology,Yahoo and AccuWeather, so I can compare all of them. My smartphone offers even more options.
In the zero-sum context of funds that support local news, in which some topics get covered and others don’t, our media community makes questionable daily investments in the ritualized journalism dedicated to weather generalities, like that it’s going to be sunny in Kailua the next day.
So enough with the trifling already about media issues related to bizarre presidential politics, alleged mismanagement of the state and seemingly rampant local corruption. Let’s talk about something really critical: Weather journalism in Hawaii.
In a later email defending his station’s weather coverage, Darrah said with a bit of snark: “Weather is consistently among the top reasons people tune in to local news. It affects traffic, business, agriculture, recreation, plus wardrobe choices for all the old men and young women on our staff!”
At least he responded. The news directors from KHON and Hawaii News Now were apparently too busy to return messages.
A decade ago, many newspapers still ran a full page of weather statistics. TV news offered the most timely and accessible version of this type of information. But that was when brick-and-mortar print and broadcast media organizations also were best at hosting and distributing classified ads, reader commentaries (letters to the editor), legal ads, sports scores, TV guides, opinion columns, public meeting agendas and restaurant reviews.
Instead of continuing to invest in “the weather,” maybe the time finally has come for TV news in Hawaii to drop the daily generalities about the weather and instead put its money into climate-change coverage. This would include details about the weather’s extreme changes but in the context of investigations of the community’s polluters.
These investigations could seek the deeper causes of the changes in weather, relating to heat and humidity but also to the environmental damage being caused to our coral reefs, shorelines, forests, plants and wildlife.
In an era of media change, who knows how much longer anyone can stand on TV and blithely chirp, “It’s going to be another beautiful day in Waikiki.”
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Brett Oppegaard has a doctorate degree in technical communication and rhetoric. He studies journalism and media forms as an associate professor at the University of Hawaii Manoa, in the School of Communications. He also has worked for many years in the journalism industry. Comment below or email Brett at email@example.com.
Reader Rep is a media criticism and commentary column that is independent from Civil Beat’s editorial staff and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Civil Beat.