An Evening In Enemy Territory

Because our professional interests are the same, we end up together from time-to-time. Such was the case last night when WFSB hosted a National Weather Service Skywarn seminar.

All businesses are different in this regard, but I am friendly with my competitors. There are a few I’ve known for over twenty years… even one who sat on my lap when he was a little boy and I was Santa&#185!

Because our professional interests are the same, we end up together from time-to-time. Such was the case last night when WFSB hosted a National Weather Service Skywarn seminar.

Skywarn is the NWS program to train laymen to spot severe weather. No matter how sophisticated our equipment gets, eyes on the ground are nearly always better. Skywarn is sometimes affiliated with ham radio, though not always.

At least a hundred folks, mostly men, assembled in a conference room at WFSB-TV’s new facility in Rocky Hill. Two meteorologists from the Weather Service’s Taunton, MA office

worked their way through a PowerPoint presentation, telling why and showing what severe weather is all about.

In the back of the room, a gaggle of meteorologists from Channels 3, 8, 30 and 61, stood and kibitzed. This was material we’d each seen many times and knew well. We were glad to be there… glad to see the public’s interest… but probably already well beyond the program’s level.

From time-to-time there is interstation criticism on forecast or warning decisions NWS makes. On a night this, it’s difficult to see anything but the dedication and passion these ‘government boys’ have. They do want to save lives.

As long as I was at the station, I asked for a quick tour. Mark Dixon, one of the meteorologists took me around. The facility is impressive.

The construction is new, so WFSB’s studios are designed to operate with a lot of computer assisted equipment.

Instead of three or four cameras rolling around the studio, there are eight, each at a fixed position. The control rooms are meant for smaller crews, without discrete audio or font operators. The working newsroom is large with clusters of desks and lots of monitors.

Though my station has dozens of monitors in the control room, the trend now is to digitally split immense flat panel screens, allowing them to show all the video. It saves space and eliminates heat. WFSB uses this concept in its control rooms.

Doesn’t that create a single point for catastrophic failure?

Our weather areas are similarly equipped and similarly in the studio. I couldn’t resist having my picture taken in theirs.

Kudos to WFSB for offering up their facility.

&#185 – Ryan, if you’ve been scarred for life by that experience, my apologies.

Quoted in Hartford Magazine – Again

A few weeks ago Elizabeth McGuire of Hartford Magazine asked me to respond to some thoughts from the news director of one of my competitors. I thought you might like to read the finished product.

“A great, great deal has been said about the weather, but very little has ever been done.” More than 130 years after Hartford resident Mark Twain made that observation, we still have a great deal to say about the weather. “What is the one universal content item in a newscast that affects everyone? It’s the weather,” says Nick Lawler, a senior consultant with Frank N. Magid, a widely recognized television-industry consulting company based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “In national and local studies, weather usually comes out as one of , if not the top reason for people to watch a newscast,” says Lawler.

It’s not surprising that competition is still among local television stations to grab weather-watcher’s attention. Stations may not be able to do much about Mother Nature but they certainly attempt to track her every move. For example, WFSB-TV has been promoting “Early Warning Weather.” What’s that mean? “The combination of the most advanced technology and the most experienced team of meteorologists means we can warn viewers about what’s coming faster and more accurately that any other station,” says News Director Lyn Tolan. “We can give you snowfall to a portion of an inch for the area where you live. It’s really amazing stuff.”

Veteran WTNH-TV weatherman Geoff Fox, however, doesn’t buy Tolan’s claim. “We are much more accurate than we were in the past,” says Fox. “However, we believe that an accurate forecast, of value to our viewers, begins with realistic claims of our abilities. We don’t promise what we can’t deliver.” Fox also says, If she (Tolan) would like to make a wager on her claim, I will gladly take her money.” Thus challenged, Tolan says that though she stands by her claim, she’s not “a betting woman!”

Men (and Women) In Black III

I was surprised to see a half page ad in today’s Hartford Courant from the air staff (members of AFTRA) at WFSB in Hartford. Their union negotiations have been contentious, to say the least, over the past few years.

Some long time employees have worked for Travelers Insurance, Post-Newsweek and now Meredith as station owners.

Travelers was local, which always makes a difference. And, at that time, the money was flowing in like water, to a station that had cost them a pittance to put on-the-air.

Post-Newsweek was a print oriented company and, though many people felt they weren’t as employee friendly as Travelers, the station continued to be a good place to work.

Meredith is also print oriented but it’s a different situation from Post-Newsweek. I am not involved in their labor negotiations, but I have heard that Meredith declared an impasse and implemented their last/best offer. There’s not much the union members can do short of walking out.

Today’s ad said the anchors and reporters would all wear black as a sign of solidarity – and they did. The ad also listed some of their grievances. A friend called me from their newsroom to say the tension was high and management had spoken to some on-the-air people.

Meredith is going to have to make a decision on how they value the folks on-the-air. Considering the preponderance of research that says, to a large extent, people watch TV stations because of whose on the air, I will be interested to see how far this goes.

This isn’t a grade school fight. Would Meredith really cut off their nose to spite their face? Will the union cripple the station by walking out and risking their own jobs at the same time? Are there more job actions to come or will cooler heads prevail? How can it benefit any company to be at war with their own staff?

I work for the competition and I want to win, but not by default against a crippled opponent. This time, the news will be from the newsroom.

(The Hartford Courant featured an article about the situation, which is attached below)

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