Light is Right Joe Campbell

Light is Right Joe Campbell

You can’t be too careful accessing the media. If you relax your critical faculties for even a few seconds, the media can soothe you into accepting the unacceptable. I know, because when a local TV news anchor called the weathercaster a meteorologist, I let it pass.

I used to announce the weather when I was a radio newscaster. If I remember correctly, I got what I needed from a teleprinter and tacked it on to the end of the news. Believe me, I was no meteorologist, just as when I covered the police beat I was no criminologist.

When I started in radio, I was so meteorologically naïve I thought Alberta clippers and Arctic jets were aircraft. As for tsunamis, I confused them with Japanese wrestlers. But it didn’t take me long to familiarize myself with the terminology, and I eventually enjoyed speaking weather language

When television arrived, some fancy pants from the production side took over the weather forecasts. He was no meteorologist either. He thought that El Niño and La Niña were Mexican bandits. A government weather station provided the data he used and he turned it into entertainment. Although not a meteorologist, he was a pioneer. Eventually television turned everything into entertainment, even news. That’s when I learned that entertainment often fails to entertain.

Anyhow, he and I are apparently in good company. A December 20, 2010, Toronto Star report indicated that most Canadian TV weathercasters aren’t qualified meteorologists, at least not according to the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, which endorses media weathercasters with the proper credentials.

By its standards, the credentials required to call themselves meteorologists include a bachelor of science degree in the subject. If, as I suspect, the Star report remains accurate, most TV weathercasters still don’t have their BSc.

Many, though, are only one letter short. But that’s qualification enough, in my opinion. What they lack in science, they can get from Environment Canada, where most of the country’s meteorologists work and where a web service is available that tells the media what the weather’s doing.

I’m not sure why some weathercasters have passed as meteorologists without qualifying. Nor am I sure why others qualify as meteorologists when they don’t need to and probably shouldn’t.

Oh, I suppose that it’s only human to inflate job titles. Look how many professionals, not to mention non-professionals, call themselves doctors. If you’re on TV, why settle for being a pedestrian weathercaster when you can present yourself as an impressive, authoritative meteorologist? The main casualty, apart from truth, could be credibility. Some viewers might think that you’re a specialist in tracking space rocks not forecasting weather.

But you shouldn’t be a specialist at all. You should be a generalist. Like the journalists you work with, you should be adept at translating professional jargon into everyday language. Equally important, you should be expert at distilling what viewers want and need to know from the superfluous data meteorologists might think they ought to know.

After escaping the wild newsroom, I became a tame journalist for my alma mater. To promote faculty accomplishments in scholarship and research, I wrote news releases and distributed them to media across Canada and beyond. This, I should hasten to add, was before universities became bastions of political correctness, when, almost certainly, I would have failed to measure up. Or is it down?

To produce the releases, I had to translate technical terminology and modes of writing into the lingua franca of journalism. This I did in subjects as diverse as computer science, drama, economics, psychiatry, physics, and sociology. I didn’t have to become a computer scientist, dramatist, economist, and so on. I just had to be a journalist. If today I had to do it in women’s studies, my superiors wouldn’t expect me to become a woman. Or would they?

Anyhow, I expect TV weathercasters to do for me what I did for the media. I’m tired of watching meteorologists, real or imagined, deliver treatises on how weather works. Usually, all I want to know is temperature, wind speed and direction, and if it’s going to rain or snow tomorrow. Yes, I appreciate being warned about dramatic changes in the forecast. But, as meteorology is not an exact science, the less weathercasters tell me, the less likely they’ll mislead me. Besides, when they overwhelm me with the incidental, I often miss the essential.

For the sake of brevity, I don’t want weathercasters to become meteorologists anymore than I want journalists to become historians.