Climate Matters Program for TV Weathercasters
In 2009, Ed Maibach and colleagues at George Mason University and Climate Central began to discuss the potential for TV weathercasters to band together, creating a community of practice of local climate educators. From these discussions, the Climate Matters program was brought to life, training and supporting American TV weathercasters to report on the local impacts of climate change while reflecting current scientific knowledge and concerns. In the early stages of development, the planning team conducted a survey with US TV weathercasters to better understand their views on climate change and some of the barriers that accompanied reporting on the local impacts of climate change. Survey work was followed by conversations with weathercasters that revealed benefits related to reporting that were important to weathercasters and their managers. To ensure that Climate Matters could adequately support participating weathercasters, the team was expanded to include climate scientists, social scientists, and communication professionals that could provide insight into what information should be shared and how best to share it with viewers. The program was first tested through a partnership with Jim Gandy, the Chief Meteorologist at the CBS news station in Columbia, South Carolina. Jim was selected by the planning team because (1) he was an influential member of the weathercaster community, (2) his news director and general manager supported his participation in the program, and (3) his viewers resided in a politically conservative area, meaning they would likely be more difficult to engage in climate change education. Gandy and the team worked together to identify 12 story topics that were relevant to climate impacts already seen in Columbia and would have a weather-related “news hook” for the audience. For each story, a package was created that included local data on historical weather conditions and projected changes, one or more broadcast-quality graphics that visualized the data, and facts that could be used in real-time to support a narrative that would last approximately two minutes. An evaluation of the year-long pilot test with Gandy demonstrated that, compared to viewers of other stations, Gandy’s viewers became more certain of the reality of climate change, more likely to see it as harmful, and more concerned about it. The program also delivered key benefits to weathercasters and their managers including peer recognition, news media attention, audience praise, and professional advancement. After this pilot, the program was scaled up – first, 10 additional weathercasters from around the nation were brought on to participate in the program, then a year later, the program team invited all 47 weathercasters in Virginia to participate, with 20 accepting the invitation. As these weathercasters created a new norm in their community of practice, the planning team began to enroll any weathercaster who requested permission to participate. As the program continued to expand across the nation, materials became available in both English and Spanish, and the American Meteorology Society, NASA, and NOAA joined the project to help facilitate its expansion. As the number of participating weathercasters grew, they began to model climate reporting for others in their industry, influencing and encouraging others to try adopting the new behavior. Climate Matters was also regularly promoted through presentations at the American Meteorology Society and National Weather Association annual meetings. Because of conflict in the meteorology community about opposing views of climate change, the program team engaged the services of a conflict mediator who worked with several small groups of opinion-leading weathercasters to surface and work through the entrenched conflicts about climate change in the community of practice. A decade after the launch of Climate Matters there were 996 participating weathercasters (56 broadcasting in Spanish), working in 476 local TV stations (and five national networks), in 92% of all US media markets and 99 of the top 100 media markets.
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