Automation, as I recently commented, is threatening the jobs of employees ranging from food-service workers to truck drivers. But what about the television meteorologist? In two columns, The Boston Globe tries to answer the question, can the TV meteorologist be replaced by an app?
“The age of TV weathermen is over,” contends Mike Ross, a former Boston city councilor and attorney who writes regularly for the Globe. Eric Fisher, chief meteorologist at WBZ-TV in Boston, disagrees, in a column titled “Here’s why you tune in.”
Writes Fisher, “When I recently asked the question ‘Why do you watch TV over using an app?’ on Twitter, the deluge of responses gave a clear answer: The relationship built between the meteorologist and the viewer is a strong one. Viewers tune in for insight…. They want to understand the context of our always intriguing weather and what truly constitutes a rare or memorable event. This is a conversation you could start with an app, but that’s likely to be a one-sided chat.”
Of course, it’s difficult to have a two-way conversation with a TV screen. But as Fisher points out of those sharing his profession, “…we’re not just TV meteorologists anymore. We’re bloggers. We’ve become social media gurus. We’re live streamers. The traditional TV meteorologist retired long ago and isn’t coming back—you cannot survive without reaching your audience where they are.”
In contrast, Ross sees a need for contest in news reporting, but weather information comes in the form of a number or graphic that merely needs to be relayed. “That’s why weather apps are used more routinely than apps that serve up news or music,” he writes.
Ross notes that the work of meteorologists remains vital. “But relaying that information on the nightly TV news has been made redundant,” he says. He quotes David Gerzof Richard, a marketing expert and communications instructor at Emerson College, as saying of TV meteorologists, “Unless they figure out how to carve out a place in the local and mobile Web, the outlook is cloudy for the future of the on-air weatherman.”
“Boston conducted the world’s first public radio transmission of weather back in 1925,” Ross concludes. “With its knack for innovation, it should reinvent the local forecast again.”
Ross makes good points. Weather is basically numeric or graphical that needs to be relayed, not interpreted. On the other hand, as Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight pointed out back in 2012, people don’t necessarily want accurate forecasts. Perhaps the TV meteorologist will remain the best source of providing the “wet bias” that weather consumers are looking for. Further, they can provide a public service by urging people to evacuate in the face of an approaching hurricane, or at least not to go down to the beach to observe its arrival first hand.
McKinsey experts predict that automation will eliminate few occupations over the next decade. I predict the TV meteorologist will survive longer than that.