‘Weather Jack’ Offers Useful Reporting Tips On Cold Weather … (and FreAkY HaTe MaIlS !!!)

Do a Google or Lexis/Nexis search of newspaper news stories knowledgeably exploring “Arctic Oscillation” or, better yet, delving seriously into “AO.”

Lots of luck. Slim pickins. Which isn’t necessarily a problem, given the need for those stories to be accessible and understandable to their lay audiences. The real question may be whether the journalists writing weather stories, and the editors presumably overseeing them, themselves understand the issues so they can responsibly inform their audiences.

Maybe they should.

With post-holidays cold spells embracing much of the continental U.S. and large parts of Western Europe, weather – make that C O L D, Brrrrrrrrr, “bone chilling” weather – gets lots of column inches and air time.

Ergo the risk of again confusing weather and climate and further muddying the public’s thinking and understanding.

An effective antidote for journalists, educators, and others – including scientists – wanting to better understand how the blitz of unusually cold temperatures fits into the larger picture?

Weather expert Jack Williams, often known as Weather Jack from his days as USA Today‘s top weather journalist, offers a useful prescription in a January 6 “Science Stories about Arctic Blasts Missing in Action” blog posting.

He offers authoritative links and questions reporters might begin with, combined with a brief tutorial on the principles of sound news gathering on such complex issues as “AO.”

“All this would be in addition to the routine, and somewhat tired, stories about people coping with the cold in the United States,” Williams wrote.

“The lack of stories giving a well-rounded picture of how the cold that’s driving up your heating bill fits into the global picture only encourages the kind of ‘Oh, I’m so smart’ yahoos” bashing climate science, he wrote.

Williams cautioned that journalists taking on the challenge of responsibly informing their audiences on climate change by now know to be prepared for what he called the “earthy” flood of e-mails and reactions sure to ensue. But he offered an antidote to those annoying form-letter protests too, in the form of columnist Gene Weingarten’s humorous December 27, 2009, “Under the Beltway” column on how editors can respond to out-of-bounds audience responses often resembling hate mail. See that column – “RANdom CAPITALizATION and other secrets of angry letter writing!!!!!!!” for a good chuckle … and also for some good pointers the next time you get slammed for doing your job of responsible reporting.

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