In weather broadcasting and in communication regulation, localism has been crucial. Local weather information has been a staple of the local television business model, and offers a site for building connections with the audience. These connections have been shown to be an essential part of television business models in the post-network era, and online (Chan-Olmstead and Ha, 2003). The historical justification for localism has been that local programs would be more responsive to the needs of local audiences. Analyses of the economics of localism on television products reveal that were there should be programming variety there is often homogeneity (Waldfogel, 2005; Yoo, 2008). The literature suggests that local television weather programming would be very similar between markets. On the other hand, attempts to communicate about local weather information from a central source have been met with great hostility by audiences (Daniels, 2008). Market pressures would simultaneously drive weather programs to be similar, yet produced at many different sites. The factors that make weather programs work should be relatively stable from market to market.
This presentation will feature results from a heuristic analysis of weather websites for television stations in the top one hundred media markets in the United States. Heuristic analysis focuses on the content, layout, and interactive features of an Internet site as perceived by a human website user, this sort of analysis can reveal both patterns in communication, and can detail how human users interact with technology (Proctor and Vu, 2005). This discussion will focus on the overt attempts to communicate scientific information through television station weather websites, technologies employed through those websites, and uses of weather websites for extending the perception of parasocial interaction between the weather person and the audience. The results of this analysis will be juxtaposed with the styles of presentation of information that have been effective for popular new media and Web 2.0 sites. These kinds of online experiences are often described as sticky or affectively involving in a similar way to which local weather broadcasts have been (Miller, 2002; Gladwell, 2002).
The styles of presentation typical for local television weather sites are often not typical of those that are considered sticky. Television weather sites are often relatively simple, requiring little computing power to gain access to information and commercial content. Contemporary sticky websites utilize more sophisticated forms of interaction to produce a kind of strong affective connection with the user. The stickyness of the relationship that television viewers have with their weather person is not carried into the user experiences one might have with their websites. On the other hand, simply designing a more sophisticated website does not necessarily result in a sticky experience. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer since the kinds of communication technology that provide sticky experiences are not nearly as available as television, and would require developing new communication competencies in diverse and underserved audiences. Understanding why local television weather productions work for their intended audiences, and why they are not effective for climate and risk communication offers insights into how communication strategies could be adapted for greater success.