Works Of Art – Why Learning To Make Great Graphics Is Such A Big Deal

Every broadcast meteorologist should have something special that sets them apart from the rest of the weather team. Some are good at public speaking, others rock at severe weather, while others are social media masters. But every weather team should have a graphics guru. If you love working with computers, have an eye for what looks good and attend a college that can offer you the experience, weather graphics could be your big thing.

More now that ever, knowing how to make great graphics is a sought after skill. If you have a WSI or Weather Central computer on campus, you have a golden opportunity to learn all its ins and outs before you even set foot in a local TV station. A top-notch weather graphic artist not only must know what the system can do, but you’ll also need to know what makes a graphic clear, readable and attractive. It takes time and practice to develop these skills, but can really set you up after graduation. Here are a couple of reasons why now more than ever, weather producing has become a big deal:

Graphics are becoming more complex. When I started working in broadcast meteorology in 1998, most of our forecast graphics were being set up to the graphic artist before every show. As weather graphics became more advanced, the weather department took on that responsibility, which increased the work load. Over ten years later, we’ve added extra newscasts each with extra, unique graphics. Today, not only are there more graphics to make, but the sophistication of the hardware and software has grown as well. The systems might be trending toward render-less, easier to use interfaces but the graphics themselves are now in wide-screen, high definition. Graphics that used to utilize only a XY plane, now add a Z axis for depth, allowing a whole new bag of possibilities. Weather graphics have become detailed, virtual sets. Making these graphics look great take time. Not only do they have to look sharp, but they also have to be easy to update on a daily basis, and that takes experience as well. Weather departments are looking for those graphics ninjas who can really make their 7-day forecasts shine.

Social media thrives on visual information. Not only are their more newscasts than ever before, but social media has managed to fill in all the free time in between. Now, instead of making weather graphics for the 6pm news, you are now exporting weather information to the station’s website, secondary channel, Facebook page and any other social media the station has you wrapped up in. All of these outlets require clear, attractive weather graphics, often in different sizes and file formats. Knowing how to take an interesting weather statistic from idea to Twitter-sphere is a great skill to have. The more interesting the weather graphic, the more potential viewers are likely to pass it along to their friends and followers, expanding your reach. Sharing images on social media is getting easier all the time, but you still need to create the graphic before you can share it with thousands.

It will save you from reporting. You’ll want to be a full-time employee, and often the most common way to do it is for weekend meteorologists to report during the week. Reporting is also a great skill to have, but I’ve yet to meet a meteorologist who truly enjoys general assignment reporting. If you have another, more weather-related skill to offer a news director, it will at least give them some options. Your chief meteorologist will appreciate the back-up as well.  It won’t always save you from reporting, but perhaps some extra time each week could be dedicated to graphics instead of the weekly city council meeting.

If you are looking at broadcast meteorology schools, see if your prospective or current college has it’s own class for learning to make weather graphics. In case you were wondering, they offer one at Lyndon State College, where we’ll be upgrading to the latest weather graphics from WSI this summer. Students will learn on the same system that I have in my office at WCAX. It is sometimes better hardware then you’ll see at your first small-market local TV job. Don’t be afraid to pick up a graphics design elective along the way as well. Working with weather graphics can be a lot of fun, and really help you climb the market ladder down the road.

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