COMMENTARY

There's More to Weather & Traffic Reporting Than Meets the Eye

Jaci Clement CEO & Executive Director, Fair Media Council

Jaci Clement

photo by Bob Giglione

It’s hard to have a business conversation on Long Island without mention of traffic or weather, isn’t it?

In-person meetings — when we were able to hold them — seldom started on time, because someone was always stuck in traffic. Traffic costs us, business-wise, in terms of productivity. Personally, it cuts into our quality time. Yet, our traffic-related expenses pale in comparison to what the weather churns up around here: Extreme storm activity, as we saw with Tropical Storm Isaias, blows out power and connectivity, leaving us not only in the dark, but vulnerable. The changing nature of the weather makes it now commonplace for one neighborhood block to be decimated by high winds and downed trees, while the next block remains unscathed.

You know all this because you live it.

What you may not realize is that it’s the traffic and weather reporters who are not only the workhorses of your local news teams but the linchpins around whom news programming is actually built. (Weather always came at the end of the broadcast not because it was the least important news of the day, but because it was what kept you watching til the end.)

One of the main criteria for determining how “important” a news story is centers on how many people will be affected by the news. Traffic and weather impacts all of us, which is why this kind of news is extremely important. The difficulty comes in the unpredictability — how a storm may hit the north shore, but not the south. Or how traffic on the L.I.E. slows to a crawl for hours, then suddenly opens up and the 495 can no longer be mistaken for a parking lot. In order to cover these stories well, the reporters need to know the terrain. And they need to be able to work under extreme deadlines and deliver news stories in real-time. What’s really tricky about this part of the news business is when these reporters are “wrong,” you instantly know it. No other area of reporting is as exposed to criticism as the traffic and weather reporters.

To that end, here’s something to keep in mind: The purpose of these jobs isn’t to let you know which day of the week will be the best beach day, and the best route to take to get there. That’s merely a side benefit. What your traffic and weather reporters really do is work to keep you and your family safe. Putting your safety first is why sometimes these reports seem too extreme or may even be termed “sensational” by the casual observer. Erring on the side of caution is necessary because the alternative is unthinkable. Maybe if more people understood that, these reporters would be more widely recognized for the critical role they play in our communities and our lives. “A tip of the Stetson,” as Dan Rather would put it, to LICA for acknowledging the hard work of these journalists.

Now that we live in a digital world, our news is ever-evolving. It’s no longer the news you remember. That’s what makes the work of the Fair Media Council so important to our world today. Our mission, to advocate for quality news and work to create a media-savvy society, makes us a 501c3 nonprofit organization unlike any in the country. And we’re proudly headquartered on Long Island, where we help businesses and nonprofit organizations understand how to navigate the media landscape with confidence and use news to improve their lives, businesses and communities. We thank the Long Island Contractors’ Association for your support.

This article originally appeared in Long Island Road Warriors Magazine, a publication of the Long Island Contractors’ Association.