Originally posted on Tennessean.com.
Nashville has seen a dizzying explosion in population and reputation. That has pros and cons. Continue Reading →
[Originally posted on Forbes.com.]
It used to be that the people who presented weather and traffic segments on the news were as dry as the topics they covered. They didn’t have the fatherly gravitas of the anchorman, the dashing charisma of the foreign correspondents, or the warmth and relatability of the lifestyle reporters. They just told viewers what they needed to know: Take an umbrella with you to work. Wear boots that can get wet. Leave home earlier because there’s an accident on the freeway.
Then came personalities like Al Roker of “Today” and Dave Price, formerly of “The Early Show”—weatherman as goofy sidekick—who provided comic relief after a barrage of bad news about wars, economic turmoil and political infighting. Price didn’t make it, but Roker managed to leverage his everyman personality into a full-fledged brand. It was enough to enable him to launch a production company for reality TV shows and publish numerous books. Meanwhile, female meteorologists worked to overcome a bimbo stereotype and the average weather or traffic reporter on W- or K-whatever local news broadcast tried to prove he or she was a serious, trained, credentialed professional.
That was important, because even in the 1980s and ’90s, it was never clear what, exactly, a meteorologist did. Even then, bodies like the National Weather Service were issuing hyperspecific, hyperlocal bulletins about weather forecasts and alerts. Couldn’t the anchor have just read from those, instead of hiring a specially trained weather professional?
Fast-forward 20 years and everyone has the AccuWeather app on his or her phone, or even more sophisticated ones like Swackett that skip the weather step and just tell you what to wear. As for traffic, just open Google Maps on your iPhone and not only will it give you directions, but it will also point out stretches of highway that are overly congested. Apps like Waze are crowdsourced and social in order to provide real-time, up-to-the-minute updates on slow routes and traffic backups. Those are bound to be more effective than a cameraman-and-reporter team hovering in a helicopter over one part of town, right?
But because of that technical obsolescence, the tide is turning back. The people who are reporting on mundane (yet universally interesting) topics such as weather and traffic seem to have realized that they aren’t providing a unique service—and that therefore they must be entertaining. They have to develop compelling personal brands.
Quite a few of them have taken the easy route, making weather and traffic sexy in the literal (not the PR) sense. It’s become a staple for industry newsletters and blogs to rank the hottest reporters, and more than a few of them seem not to mind being pegged that way. Tight skirts and low-cut tops seem to have become de rigueur for women, and a surprising number of male meteorologists have managed to find ways to report shirtless.
It’s gotten to the point where Mother Nature Network, a website launched by Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell, surveyed hundreds of local and national news broadcasters to compile a list of 15 of “America’s Hottest Weather Forecasters,” which includes men and women. The explanation for the story was this, in writer Matt Hickman’s word: “It doesn’t hurt to be lusted after while telling the 10 o’clock news-watching masses that it’s going to rain for a week straight, right? A little eye candy makes that bitter, weather-related pill a bit easier to swallow, we suppose.” It was enough to get them picked up by Business Insider.
Traffic reporters are getting—and arguably signing up for—the same treatment. The car-culture website Jalopnik surveyed its readers about sexy traffic reporters and collected a list of 10 women—including former aspiring reality-TV stars, former beauty pageant contestants and a few shown in bikinis—who are livening up the field. As Jalopnik put it, “Traffic’s somehow bearable when you consider that, without it, there would be no need for the warm smile of the always curiously attractive TV traffic reporter.”
And so we have a crop of weather and traffic reporters who have determined that their personal brand isn’t going to be built on conveying otherwise-unknown knowledge or even on employing a comic personality. It’s going to be built on finding the best way to physically appeal to their audience while sweetening a bitter pill.
I’ve been talking about the trend of extreme weather—and our weather-watching fixation—for years, and this adds a whole new spin.