Climate Change Education through TV Weathercasts

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Monday, 5 January 2015: 1:30 PM
221A-C (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
Jim Gandy, WLTX-TV, Columbia, SC; and J. Witte, E. Maibach, H. Cullen, X. Zhao, B. Klinger, and K. Rowan

Broadcast meteorologists are ideally positioned to educate Americans about climate change. They have tremendous reach through local TV newscasts and are trusted by their audience. To test the premise that TV weathercasters can be effective climate educators, in 2010 George Mason University, Climate Central, and WLTX-TV (Columbia, SC) developed and tested modules for weathercasts branded as Climate Matters.

The program was pioneering and was something the viewers had never encountered – locally relevant information about climate change. Climate Matters consisted of 12 modules created to air inside a weathercast. Each module focused on one aspect of climate change and how it impacted the viewer locally. The modules were designed to be 30-40 seconds in length to fit in the limited time frame of a weathercast. The segments were used on-air and on the station's website.

To formally evaluate Climate Matters, pre- and post-test surveys of the local TV news viewers in Columbia using both panel and independent cross-sectional designs. The surveys showed that after one year WLTX viewers had developed a more science-based understanding of climate change than viewers of other local news stations. The evidence suggests that Climate Matters was a successful informal climate change education effort.

The team approach to this effort proved beneficial to the meteorologist at WLTX. Researching and producing stories can be very time consuming. Broadcast meteorologists have very little time to produce stories for Climate Matters. In addition, the original research for each module was provided so that more in-depth articles could be written for the website.

Climate Matters has continued at WLTX since the conclusion of the one year project and has been on-air for over four years. Climate Central has continued to provide research material and graphics. In addition, the webpage and blog have gone through several generations expanding the reach of the material. Recently Climate Matters has been used in social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

The chief meteorologist at WLTX is now recognized as a knowledgeable source on climate change now that Climate Matters has been on-the-air for so long. He has been asked increasing to make presentations in the community to further educate viewers in central South Carolina.

Broadcasting is a dynamic environment and the number of platforms to reach viewers continues to expand. Local TV stations have gone beyond traditional television to reach viewers on cable, the internet, and through social media. Climate Matters has continued to expand as well and the stories have easily adapted to the new platforms.