What do our local broadcast meteorologists think about Paul Douglas, climate change and the role of the weathercaster in educating the public? We tried to find out, with mixed success. Out of about a dozen local broadcast meteorologists contacted via email - not once but twice per person - we received the following replies:
CHRIS WRIGHT, WTHR: Global warming and climate change are very important issues to the future of our world. It is a primary responsibility of broadcast meteorologists to address and educate the public on how our climate is changing and we can all play a part in changing the continued warming of our atmosphere.
KEVIN GREGORY, WRTV: I was aware of the AMS statement on climate change. During my weathercasts, I provide context for the weather we are experiencing. Just in my time here at RTV6, we have experienced the coldest morning ever, the most rain ever in 24 hours in Indy, the only summer without a single 90-degree day, the most tornadoes in a single year and one of the driest stretches ever. Each of these weather events helps shape our climate averages. Averages are based on a 30-year period. For example, since the Blizzard of '78 is no longer within the 30-year period, our annual snowfall average has actually gone down. You know how politicians say all politics is local. I would argue all weather is local.
JIM O'BRIEN, Fox 59: Let me first state that I'm a meteorologist not a climatologist... my "expertise" is limited, as there is a difference! With that said, over my 16 year career, I have read many articles on the subject of "global warming."
In short, I do believe that man has created harmful toxins over the past centuries that have set in motion some changes to our Mother Earth. But I also believe that this planet is a living, breathing body much like the human body. And can heal when injured or wounded in time, as we find cleaner solutions! Does this attribute to global warming? I'm hesitant to believe that... What I truly believe is that we do not have enough evidence to prove the theory that global warming is happening right now! My belief is that we are running in a warm cycle, creating global warmth that could gradually shift back into a neutral or cooler period in the decades ahead. But I'm also the guy with the glass half full! Am I concerned? Of course... Can it change? Yes.
STEVE BRAY, WISH: The shame of this issue is that it has become more wrapped in politics than science. While the majority of scientist[s] believe that the temperatures have warmed there is less common ground on human activity as the cause. The political extremes have created a polarized atmosphere that we have to navigate as weather journalists. Therefore for us to state our views on this issue would not be in the best interest of serving all of our viewers. We have in the past done some excellent stories on both sides of this issue and plan to continue to in the future.
YOUNG-HEE YEDINAK, Community Affairs Senior Producer, WTHR: Your request has been forwarded to me because I handle all the public appearances and speaking engagements of our anchors. Thank you for your email.
After reviewing your request, our News Director KEITH CONNORS had this to say: "At WTHR we don't routinely comment on climate change in our weathercasts. Like the rest [of] our journalists, our weather team is objective and neutral. They focus on facts and forecasting. We don't share our personal opinions or allow editorial comments in our newscasts."
Editor's note: Thanks to NUVO science freelancer Alex Miller for his help in reaching out to these local broadcast meteorologists.
Here's a perspective from TOM COCHRUN, former senior news anchor for WTHR and former News Director of WISH TV. Cochrun is a national Emmy-winning documentary producer, veteran broadcaster, novelist, travel writer and lecturer. He is a Distinguished Alumni at Ball State, where he majored in political science and sociology. In January 2007, he and his wife Lana moved to the Central Coast of California.
I now measure by perspective of a West Coast view. When I was in Indianapolis, I saw research that indicated Indianapolis television viewership was likely the most habitual in the US. Being out here for almost 6 years I have lost sight of how tightly constrained Indianapolis thinking can too often be. "New" and "change" can be threatening to some. Challenge can cause emotional or philosophical heartburn.
However, this matter of climate change is an obvious and apparent phenomena - though it is still contested by those who in an earlier time may have been flat earth proponents or those who believed planet earth was the center of the solar system. The change is undeniable, though there is still honest discussion about the balance of natural and human driven influence. That leads of course to politics and other forms of trying to avoid change, blame or a proactive response. So out of this milieu comes a "super sensitivity," especially when in companionship with trying to appeal to the largest number of viewers.
The "political extremes and polarized atmosphere" that Steve [Bray] speaks of is more of a reality in some places than others. Indianapolis and Indiana, of course, are certainly more "polarized" on climate change than where I live. Here, even political conservatives subscribe to the reality of the change, though they haggle about what to do about it, not wanting to create another government program or "cede freedom" in trying to find the fix. There, in Indiana, the views are less open, the polarity more pronounced and if you are in the business of trying to reach a mass audience, it would be a "safe" course to simply avoid the controversy.
I don't think that is wise or proper, however.
Avoiding the story is not a good option. It should not be the role of the journalist to provide his or her opinion, either proactively or by the absence of content. What is needed in factual reporting.
At the very least a "neutral" path of reporting would be the attempt to determine what influence humans have, why and how and to what extent. Another would be the longitudinal data on ocean temperatures, activity of polar ice, glacial changes, levels of CO2, shifts in insect and animal migrations and patterns and etc. A look at alternative technologies and energy would be another worthwhile field of regular reporting.
On balance, while some are slow to accept what science tells us, there are also large and vested interests who have undertaken to do what they can to discredit and dispute. The oil & gas and transportation industries are indeed powerful and operate by a bottom line. Profit is the purpose of the day. Growing and protecting profit is the modus operandi. Anything else is an obstacle. Public knowledge could be threatening to business as normal.As we have become a nation of mass consumers, dependent on rapid gratification, more concerned with being entertained than being informed we have been very late to the cause. We are lazy about paying attention. Warnings have been raised. The data has been amassing, but too few people are paying attention. Those who are aware are being fed conflicting information. Powerful interests have found allies in some political corners, so regulations and changes are not forthcoming and there is contention about the seriousness of the threat.
Ed Murrow said in 1958 at the RTNDA (Radio Television News Directors Association) Chicago convention Keynote address about television:
This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and even it can inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it's nothing but wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.
I used that as my navigating star when I worked in television. I wish everyone did.
To read our coverage of supersized weather click here.
See an interview with the AMS executive director here.
Check out meteorologist Paul Douglas's tips for communication climate change here.
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