How to Report About Snow

- New York Blizzard Snowstorm Blargfest

Dec. 26 blizzard, by Dan Nguyen via flickr.

Snow coverage in mainstream news outlets, particularly on television, tends to follow a predictable and extremely lame script. A man or woman stands outside, generally near a highway, and reports that it is, in fact, snowing. Then the intrepid reporter interviews people about the snow, and those people are either bemused, or frustrated that it happens to snow during the winter.

But just because TV news fails at reporting on the weather, that doesn’t mean that the weather isn’t news. In fact, it’s fair to say that the weather is often the most relevant news to the most people in your neighborhood on any given day. A neighborhood robbery may not affect 99% of people, but the rain will affect just about everyone. So it needs to be covered.

This winter, the weather has become political news — when the city bolloxed the first big storm of the year the day after Christmas, the mayor was forced to scramble and in his own non-apologetic way, apologize. Hyperlocal sites fueled the outrage. Photos of unplowed streets and comments from angry residents localized the story and gave it momentum. Because local sites tend to post missives from readers and place them at the top of their sites, those comments take on more political weight and encourage other people to send in their own evidence.

Mainstream media outlets are often slow to report on stories about seemingly mundane public service failures that hit Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island. The most glaring example of this: the blackout in Queens in the summer of 2006, when it took more than a week for an event that affected more than 100,000 people to get significant attention.

Thanks to hyperlocal sites, and more diligent reporting by larger news outlets, the derelictions of duty during the 2010 blizzard didn’t take quite as long to discover. Brooklyn Heights Blog was posting tons of photos sent in by readers, for instance, and other sites like posted stories of local residents taking matters into their own hands.

Of course, most snow storms don’t result in outrage, and sites tend to post pictures of snowmen and scenic shots of empty city streets covered in powder. But when weather becomes political, local voices are essential.

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