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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 03/13/2009

Newspapers Dying; Weather Page Already Dead?

By Dan Stillman

* Showery Saturday? Full Forecast | Superstorm of 1993 *

In case you haven't heard, newspapers are dying a slow death. Actually, in some cases not so slow. As reported this week by TIME, the Rocky Mountain News has closed up shop, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, San Francisco Chronicle and several other major newspapers may be close behind. The Washington Post and New York Times aren't exactly thriving, either.

If you're reading this, odds are you're part of the masses who have left newspapers in the dust in favor of the Internet. I can't complain, since that means more traffic for us here at Capital Weather Gang. I do, however, have a soft spot for newspapers. I'm not exactly a career newspaper guy, but I still look back fondly at the endless hours I spent as a writer and editor for my coIlege newspaper, The Michigan Daily. There are few things more amazing than "the daily miracle" -- the extraordinary combined effort of writers, editors, photographers and others that produces a newspaper day in and day out.

While some papers will likely find a way to survive in the Internet age -- especially tabloid publications like the Express and Examiner that are better suited for toting on public transportation -- I wonder if the newspaper weather page has already been dead for quite some time?

Keep reading for more on the state of newspaper weather pages, and a poll question for you...

We learned last month from CWG's Steve Tracton about how Robert Fitzroy, the "inventor of forecasting" and ship captain who enlightened Charles Darwin on aspects of weather and climate, helped spur the debut of daily weather forecasts in newspapers in the mid-1800s.

The most well known modern-day weather page is probably that of USA Today, which has a storied history of its own. Personally, I've always found the USA Today page fun to look at for a colorful snapshot of the national weather scene and brilliantly designed graphics explaining how weather works, but short on weather information that is useful at a local level.

As for more locally focused newspaper weather pages, like that of the Washington Post, I fear they're in trouble for the same reasons the newspaper industry as a whole is in dire straits: Thanks to the 24-hour TV and Internet news cycles, much of the news found in the daily newspaper is obsolete by the time you wake up; and most of us have little time or need to sit down and read a newspaper after spending half the day procrastinating on Internet news sites (e.g., you, right now). Oh yeah, and the economy stinks.

Maybe more so than newspapers in general, the cards are really stacked against newspaper weather pages, which suffer from the following disadvantages...

No moving parts: No animated radar or satellite, no interactive temperature maps or hurricane trackers. Aesthetically, colorful maps and icons are about the best that can be done.

Doesn't update: No matter how many times you put the newspaper weather page down and pick it back up, the information doesn't change. Meanwhile, weather on TV, radio and the Internet is updated constantly.

No local personalities or expertise: With a few exceptions, most newspaper weather pages don't incorporate the personalities and expertise of real human meteorologists. Rather, for the most part the are fed by syndicated weather content from faceless national providers.

I also wonder how useful the standard national weather map found on many newspaper weather pages -- you know, the one featuring low pressure and high pressure and cold fronts and warm fronts -- is to the average consumer of weather information?

All hope is not lost for newspaper weather. In fact, I was surprised to find that the genre may not be completely dead yet. In a recent survey (PPT; see slide 12), newspapers lost out to TV, radio and non-National Weather Service Web pages as the most often consulted source of weather forecasts, but did beat out National Weather Service Web pages, mobile devices and the telephone (believe it or not, 936-1212 still works in some locations, including the D.C. area).

What, if anything, would you do to change or improve newspaper weather pages? Let us know with a comment below. And answer our poll question too...

By Dan Stillman  | March 13, 2009; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Media  
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I read the weather page every day. The more features you cut, the less necessary the print edition becomes. Cut out all this talk of cutting and all of the cutting.

Posted by: bob31 | March 13, 2009 12:18 PM | Report abuse

Your post brought back some pre-Internet memories, I remember calling 936-XXXX during winter weather. Also 844-XXXX to find out what time it was to set the clocks.

Your poll might be more telling if you collected age info; my parents still subscribe to newspapers, but I'm sure a lot less young people do.

Maybe you could come up with some sort of weather puzzle... if you could manage to invent the next Sudoko, the weather page would be saved.

Long live the printed word!

Posted by: spgass1 | March 13, 2009 12:52 PM | Report abuse

I will admit to being weather freak. A few decades ago (pre-Google), I participated in a salvage archaeology project/field school in Alexandria. I was assigned a research project on former inhabitants of the block we were salvaging. While perusing an ancient Alexandria Gazette, I became so enthralled by an account of a hurricane encountered in the Caribbean (news which took 3 mos. to reach Alexandria, and may even have come by way of London) that I really had to step up the pace to assemble references to my lost Alexandrian on time. I find references to past weather events irresistible even more so now, when anything can be documented (or disproved)-- the debate on Led Zeppelin in Wheaton notwithstanding.

Posted by: dcbyday | March 13, 2009 1:13 PM | Report abuse

One of the things I like in the weather page is data about past conditions, which is a bit harder to find in one place. The forecast? Sure--I have my weather channel tool bar in firefox and Meteo on the Mac that gives me instant access.

But I love seeing degree days, rainfall totals, etc. I'd say the NY Times is better than the Post on several counts. I also like the Boston Globe weather page--they show the jetstream on the national map.

Posted by: ah___ | March 13, 2009 3:03 PM | Report abuse

The only issue involving the newspaper weather page is that it's out of date by the time you see it. The historical data is valuable nowadays, however.

Posted by: Bombo47jea | March 13, 2009 8:05 PM | Report abuse

LEFTIST TRASH. i dont waste my time with with any news papers for over 10 yrs now. true facts are a rarity, and their liberal propaganda is sickening.

Posted by: deveinmadisonva | March 13, 2009 9:31 PM | Report abuse

daveinmadisonva, above, is not entirely correct. There are centrist or center-right newspapers like the Washington Times, but, in general, many newspapers DO have a strong liberal bias....the Post, unfortunately, is a classic example.

Back to the topic.....if newspapers cease printing and selling paper copies, then their income will have to come from somewhere....and not just ads. My guess is that they will make you set up an Internet account and charge your credit card for each logon.

Posted by: MMCarhelp | March 14, 2009 6:46 PM | Report abuse

My favorite feature of the Post's printed weather page is the Temperature Trend - a very clever graph that shows a lot in a glance. I've only ever seen one other paper that carried anything like it (theirs was actually slightly better). I also like the Degree Days info, which really allows you to quantify just how hot or cold previous days, etc, were. These two features are not common on any online website I know of. As static as the weather pages are in newspapers, I wouldn't want newspapers to be without them. Papers seem to be in a self-reinforcing death spiral. The less people buy them, the smaller the papers get, the fewer features they offer, and the more expensive they get (Wall St. Journal at $2 a day in newsboxes? Wow! USA Today up to a buck now. Even the Washington Times at 50 cents after years of bragging about being a quarter.) The smaller and more expensive they get and the fewer interesting features they offer, the less people are inclined to buy them! As for me, I'm not taking my laptop to the bathroom to read. It's still much quicker to skim through a newspaper than view the same content online on a pc or mobile device - still much easier to carry a folded section or two in the briefcase than a laptop. Enough. Now here's a question I've always wondered about: Why doesn't the NWS record it's weather data from midnight to midnight to match what a real day really is? Hey, while we're at it, why doesn't the NWS keep score of and publish the accuracy of its forecasts? And is there anyone who has determined what weather service (NWS, AccuWeather, MyCast, WeatherUnderground, The Weather Channel, etc) IS most accurate most consistently? Are certain services better in certain seasons? It would be interesting to know the answers to these questions. :-)

Posted by: DopplerPat | March 14, 2009 11:56 PM | Report abuse

the lack of posts on this topic shows, peoples minds are made up. what a shame another american tradition gone forever. its so sad to see reputable news papers go the way of the national inquire

Posted by: deveinmadisonva | March 16, 2009 8:09 PM | Report abuse


Thanks for your comments. Very interesting.

I'm also a fan of the print version's temperature trend graphic.

To answer your one of your questions, I'm not aware of companies independently verifying forecasts.

Posted by: Jason-CapitalWeatherGang | March 16, 2009 10:16 PM | Report abuse

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