5.2 I Love Weather More Than Anybody: A Digital Ethnography of The Weather Channel’s Online Fan Community

Wednesday, 10 January 2018: 10:45 AM
Ballroom B (ACC) (Austin, Texas)
Jeremy L. Shermak, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX; and K. N. Whipple

Media scholars frequently study fan communities to connect societal issues to mass media. Fans are loyal and engaged individuals who create interpretive, purposeful communities (Gray, et. al., 2005) which that make them ideal targets for tailored media content. While the relationship between fans and media has existed for several decades, the arrival of social media has rearranged the landscape. Social media’s ability to distribute information previously unavailable to the general public has led to the creation of weather communities featuring attributes of traditional fan communities such as sports, music and film (National Research Council, 2009; Shepherd, 2016). Among the more notable weather fan communities is The Weather Channel’s (TWC) WeLoveWeather.com, where fans are encouraged to “celebrate” their “excitement of all things weather” (weloveweather.tv, 2016).

This study will analyze the observations gathered through a digital ethnography of WeLoveWeather.com. A digital ethnography allows researchers to become part of a community and observe participant activity to gather information and data for analysis (Gerber, Abrams, Curwood, & Magnifico, 2016; Murthy, 2011). For this project, we will use our digital ethnography findings to assess WeLoveWeather as an “affinity space” (Lammers, Curwood, & Magnifico, 2012; Gee & Hayes, 2011). This is a fan community that consists of loyal, engaged users with the desire to create, share and distribute content in order to inform those both in and outside of a shared online space (Gee & Hayes, 2011). Their content is referred to in fandom scholarship as “gifts,” through which fans provide media entities with valuable content and information in return for prestige, recognition and feedback (Turk, 2013). Affinity spaces are also unique in that they do not discriminate based on age, race or socioeconomic status. Those new to the community have equal footing in relation to more experienced users (Gee & Hayes, 2011). Teaching and learning is encouraged in the community, even during disputes (Gee & Hayes, 2011). This study aims to assess WeLoveWeather’s potential role as an affinity space and consider its influence on the online distribution of weather information.

Our study will offer insight on how weather is being discussed and shared in this online community. Meteorologists and scholars have expressed concern over the sharing and distribution of false information online, especially during times of crisis, such as hurricanes and tornadoes (American Meteorological Society, n.d.; Austin, Liu, & Jin, 2012; Gordon, 2016; Shepherd, 2016). This issue can be assessed through the theoretical lens of affinity spaces tied to content and user type. For example, what types of content do WeLoveWeather community participants share? How do participants respond and interact with content posted by their peers? To what extent do participants provide feedback and encouragement? How does The Weather Channel benefit from WeLoveWeather’s content? Answering these questions and more will provide theoretical and practical insights to gauge the significance of these fan communities on the distribution of weather information across media.


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