Summer is my time to catch up on reading, and one of my favorite books from the past few months has been The First 20 Hours: How To Learn Anything… Fast! by Josh Kaufman. Josh writes about rapid skill acquisition, and how anyone can become competent at a new skill quickly by giving it focused attention. Continue reading
As much as we try we can’t predict the future, especially when it comes to our careers. While you are still in college, you should take some time to put together a plan for when things don’t go as expected.
We’re not all living the dream. For some broadcast meteorologists, recent graduates discover that either they don’t like the job as much as they thought they would, or that the job doesn’t like them. Some meteorologists have unrealistic expectations of what the job will pay, or what the hours or work might be like. Others find that no matter how many tapes they send out to even the smallest of stations, the phone will just not ring.
When I graduated college, I didn’t have a Plan B. I was six months out of school, working in retail and my college loans were coming due. I had sent out dozens of tapes with little more than a ‘no thanks’ in return. My Plan B ended up being me going back to college to get a broadcasting degree. Three semesters later, I was able to land my first broadcast meteorology gig, which is actually at the same station I’m at today, thirteen years later.
College campuses are busy again and like every Autumn, the campus television stations are getting ready for another semester. If you are a student meteorologist interested in a career in broadcasting, these campus stations are your best bet to get the practice you need to be good enough to land that first job. Some campus stations are run by college broadcasting or journalism department and can give students a real taste of live television news. Other campus stations are student led free-for-alls that lack any kind of structure or leadership. These are in the majority. While TV clubs are a lot of fun, usually they are not going to help you get as good as you need before you graduate.
If you are serious about your future in broadcast meteorology, you need to take a hard look at what kind of experience you are planning to get this semester. Here are a few important things to consider and look for:
Live daily newscasts are better than taped weather cut-ins. Does your campus television station offer live daily newscasts? Many campus stations tape their newscasts or only offer cut-ins for weather. It’s important to be part of a full newscast to learn anchor chat and the ability to work with others. If you are only getting a minute or two per weathercast, you are missing out on a full news show experience. Some campus stations only air newscasts once or twice a week. If its not a daily newscast, and you are not the only broadcast meteorologist in the program, there is no way you’ll get enough shows to get to where you want with your skill.
Campus TV clubs usually don’t sport the gear you need. You are going to want a chroma-key wall, a news set and some good lighting. Chances are your résumé tape material will come from the shows you do on your college television station. If the set or lighting looks like it came from the high school A/V club, then you are probably not helping your chances. You also need a weather computer that provides live satellite and radar data, and the ability to draw your own surface maps. Anything less and you might as well be doing the weather from your bedroom webcam. Not only are theses computers great to have for your shows, but they also give your résumé a huge boost if you know how to use them. Find a college that is serious about putting out high-quality newscasts.
The big difference between a news anchor and a broadcast meteorologist is that the newsie reads a pre-written script, and the met usually ad-libs. What is ad-lib? It’s the ability to speak off the top of your head on a certain topic, and its a skill you can learn and improve. Its harder than it looks, and not something you can just tackle in a week or two. The key is to sound informative, but still conversational at the same time. You can know all there is about the weather, but if you can’t communicate it effectively, then you are not going to get your forecast across.
Ad-lib is not about making it up as you go along. Your best bet for success is to follow a couple of important concepts.
Know your topic. You can talk the easiest about what you know the best. Today in class I had the students do a two-minute ad-lib on themselves. It’s probably the easiest topic to ad-lib about. Most broadcast meteorologists do pretty well talking about the weather too, especially when you throw in some weather graphics. Not only should you know the forecast, and how weather systems behave, but you should also have a handle on the local geography. Knowing your cities, states and major highways will make it easier to describe where the weather is, and where it is going.
Its hard to believe that the start of the Fall semester is less than four weeks away. August 30th will be our first Broadcast Performance for Meteorologists class of the semester. Our Juniors studying Atmospheric Science at Lyndon State College will stepping into our classroom studio, and we’ll begin the process of developing broadcast meteorologists. These students have already spent two years learning the meteorology and will now be learning how to communicate those concepts on camera.
Its a great time of year because everyone is fresh and ready to go, including me. Most students are pretty excited to start the broadcasting part of their college career, but there are usually a bit of nerves mixed in as well. We deal with all of that in our first few weeks, and September is usually a busy month. Its very cool to see a student go from their first weathercast on camera to their first live weather update, usually sometime before Thanksgiving. They usually come a long way in their first couple months, but no one goes on until they are ready. We try to keep those YouTube moments in the privacy of the classroom. They all come back in the Spring for a second class which focuses more on polishing their broadcasts, learning more about weather graphics, as well as covering severe weather and outdoor live shots.
There are a lot of broadcast meteorologists out there. Its a cool job and a lot of people want it. There are also a limited number of jobs openings, especially if you are just out of college. In order to stand out from the pack, you need an edge. You should have something in your bag of tricks that makes you a better candidate than the rest of the competition. Keep in mind, these skills don’t take the place of being a knowledgeable meteorologist who knows what to do at the green wall. Those things need to come standard. Here are a few bonus skills that will help get your resume to the top of the stack.
Reporting, Shooting and Editing – This one is easily at the top of the list. Most entry level meteorologists start out as a weekend met/weekday reporter. Most meteorologists either don’t have a journalism program available at college, or are just too busy to take advantage of it. Those that do get some reporting skills have a big advantage right off the bat. You save the news director from having to train you on news gathering, and allow yourself to jump right in and be ready to go. You don’t necessarily need to get a journalism degree or minor, but knowing your way around a camera and edit deck are two excellent things to have on your resume.
Its tough when you are starting out as a broadcast meteorologist. You are trying to apply all your weather knowledge into a three minute presentation, trying to form complete thoughts off the top of your head, and pointing to virtual elements in front of a green wall. Its takes a little time to get ‘good’, and it can take a lot of time to be ‘great’. It’s all relative too, which is a hard concept for a meteorologist. There is no qualitative way to measure your effectiveness as a broadcast meteorologist, so it hard to know when you are making progress, and when you are just spinning your broadcast wheels.
So your inner critic gets to work, often in the middle of a show. He can be pretty negative sometimes and throw you off your game. Even worse, that inner critic can sometimes convince you that you’ll never get better, and you are not cut out for this. You need to be aware of what your telling yourself, and you can’t let that stop you from working on your skills every week. In time, that voice can be your friend. Here are a few tips to make the most of your inner critic:
Alex Avalos has been busy this summer. Not only has he been building a blog, and active on Twitter, but he’s also doing a summer internship at a local station in Connecticut. I thought it would be interesting to ask him a few questions to get his perspective on what its like to be a broadcast meteorology intern.
Where are you interning this summer, and what’s your normal day like?
I intern at News 8 (WTNH) in New Haven, Connecticut. Each Monday morning, I start my day around 1:30 AM, to get ready for the hour long commute to New Haven in order to start my shift at 4:00 AM. I usually arrive at the station around 3:40 AM each Monday morning, and Meteorologist Gil Simmons (whom I intern for) is not far behind.
When he gets to the station, we debrief on the weather for the current day, have a look at the models, stability indices, verticals data, etc. The only problem with interning during the very early morning shift is the need to get things done as quickly, yet efficiently as possible. Each morning, I will research some other forecasting materials which he will incorporate into his morning show (for example, pollen index, Long Island Sound temperatures, rainfall totals from a storm, etc.), and depending on the hustle to prepare for the morning show, I will plug some of the data into the weather graphics computer for Gil.
Earlier this week I updated the Lyndon State Alumni section on Broadcastmet.com. With the help of Tim Lewis, co-chair of the Electronic Journalism Arts program at Lyndon State College, I was able to track down 46 broadcast meteorologists. I attached links to their local television news profiles, and their Twitter accounts where I could find them. I think its interesting to look back and see how past graduates have done and hopefully your meteorology program keeps track of alumni as well. Alumni are be a valuable resource.
With social media, we are now connected more than ever, and a network of alumni can be a great asset for looking for job opportunities or just asking for some advice. Every broadcast meteorologist likely had some help from someone who has come before them. I’ve found that most veteran mets are usually willing to offer some assistance to the new broadcasters coming up the pipe.
A broadcast meteorology program with a long list of successful alumni will not guarantee you a good job after college, and knowing someone who works somewhere doesn’t always get you an ‘in’. It will always come down to whats on your resume tape, but having a strong network of alumni who are willing to point you in the right direction can be just the edge you need.
If you are looking into going to school for broadcast meteorology, ask to see a list of where past broadcast mets have gotten jobs. Knowing that the program is producing meteorologists that are currently working in the field and doing well is a good sign. If you have a favorite local tv met, go online and check out their biography to see where they went to college. You’ll usually find that alumni are the best advocates for the programs they graduated from.
Alumni have been there. They’ve taken the classes, eaten the dining hall food, and know what you are going through. They also graduated, got a job and moved on. Eventually you’ll be doing the same. Look to alumni when you are having a tough time and need some objective advice. Just be sure to pay it back to someone else when you are the one with the nice broadcast meteorology job.
We all strive to improve, no matter how long we’ve been broadcast meteorologists. There is always something we can improve on and maybe do better. When you are starting out, that list of things to work on can feel pretty long, and there will often be times when you don’t feel like this is normal. We all get stuck in ruts, and usually the only way out is through.
Maybe you are stuck on a crutch word, or talking a little too fast. Maybe you get hung up on saying the same things show after show, or completely blanking out when it comes time to chat with the anchors. Ruts seem to drag you down, and take the rest of the show with it. Here are a couple of ideas to help you survive your next rut, and break on through (to the other side).
Recognize you are in a rut. Often ruts can go on for weeks without you even knowing. Watch your shows, and be aware of what you are doing. Try to pick up on things you could do better, but also give yourself some credit with how far you’ve come so far.
Stephen King wrote in his memoir that when he was learning to write stories as a kid, imitation preceded creation. He would often take stories and characters he was familiar with and work them into works of his own. He was still in grade school at the time, but his mother would encourage him to create stories and characters of his own. As he developed his skill, he began drawing on his own experiences and his world to create his best selling works today.
I often see similar development patterns in early broadcast meteorologists. They come into class, having grown up with watching a certain meteorologist for years and years, and broadcasting in a style that is not truly them. They might be really technical, or really goofy, or get hung up on certain words or phases. I’ll ask a student where they are from, and who they grew up watching, and you can see someone else’s on-air presence being mimicked by the student. It’s true that imitation often precedes creation when you are starting out. That is fine, but I push students to discover their own broadcast style.
We usually need the courage of seeing someone else do it before us. It’s usually what inspires us to get up and do it in the first place. A broadcast meteorologist will eventually find more success in what they do when they figure out who they are as broadcasters. When they start listening to that voice, they become much more authentic and effective as broadcasters. Stephen King would have never become the writer he is today if he had continued to write stories based on what was already out there. Instead, he was challenged to write from within, and he eventually found his own voice.
We’ll still have a fondness for broadcast mets we grew up with, and who are still great at what they do. We can learn a lot by watching them and picking up on what they do well. The best broadcast meteorologist you can be is the one who is closest to who you are in real life. That is the person viewers are going to want to get their forecast from.
Broadcastmet.com has been up for about a month now, but there is still a bunch of features I”ve been meaning to add or improve on. I’m hoping to get a chance to get to a few of those this week. Here is what is on the to do list:
Expanded Lyndon State Alumni page – If you watch the weather on television, chances are you know a broadcast meteorologist who graduated from Lyndon State College. There are about three years of alumni on the site already, but our database goes back to the late 1970s. I’d like to get that information on the site this week, with links to station profiles and Twitter accounts where I can find them. If you are a Lyndon State broadcast met alumni and want to be sure you are included, please shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Expanded Broadcast Meteorology Schools page – There are a lot of great meteorology schools out there, and a lot of great broadcasting programs out there. I’m in search of colleges and universities that are excellent at both. I have a list of schools on the page already, but the list is incomplete and missing a ton of links. I’m going to clean that up this week and provide better links directly to the programs, where I can find them. If you go to a school with a great meteorology program, I’d like to hear about it. Please send me an email to email@example.com with any links that might point me in the right direction.
I’ve got other ideas for features that I’d like to launch before the end of the summer, but this will keep me busy for a few days. If you have an idea for something that would improve the site or an idea for a blog post, I’d be happy to hear from you. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for checking out the site, and have a great week!
One of the best parts of my job is getting to meet new students. We had a group of sixteen high school seniors visit Lyndon State College today, interested in atmospheric science as a major. They couldn’t have had a nicer day. Dr. Nolan Atkins from the Atmospheric Science department gave the students a tour of the meteorology facilities, which concluded with the launch of a weather balloon on the observation deck. After that, I brought the group over to News7 for a tour of our campus studio and a crash course in broadcast meteorology.
They were a great group and I’m glad I had the chance to be on campus and meet them today. I’m not sure how many of them were interested in the Broadcast Meteorology track, but we also offer National Weather Service, Private Sector, and Graduate School tracks. It might be fair to say that most students don’t exactly what they want to do early on, so selecting a school with some flexibility is important.
Picking a college is one of the most important decisions someone makes, so it was nice to talk with them and let them see what Lyndon has to offer. There are a lot of other factors that go into picking the right college too. Students need to weigh the cost, location, and the surrounding area in order to make sure they have the right school for them.
When I was looking for a college, it was all about fit. It’s a feeling you get when being on the campus just seems right. It’s a feeling that tells you that this is where you would like to be. There is a lot of other criteria that also plays into the big decision, but usually the ‘fit’ and the facts coincide pretty well.
Our next open house for prospective students is July 29.
Becoming an effective broadcast meteorologist is like training to run a marathon. If you rolled out of bed one day and tried to run 26.2 miles, you probably wouldn’t make it too far. Its the same way with broadcast meteorology. It takes practice. If you want to become a good broadcast met with a great resume tape, you need to be able to work at it.
You’ll probably be pretty terrible at first, and that’s okay. What is important is that you pick the right college program to put yourself in a position to succeed. Know exactly what the broadcasting program offers meteorologists ahead of time, so that you don’t get two years into a four year program that is not going to help get you there. Don’t go to a school to learn how to swim if they don’t have a pool (I felt like Dr. Phil right there).
Here are a few things you should look for in a good broadcast meteorology program:
Live, daily newscasts – You should be part of a news team that does live broadcasts everyday. You’ll want to have anchors to chat with, and photojournalists to take you outside when the weather gets bad. It has to be every day because you want to get in as many shows as possible, and you’ll likely have to spread it out among the other mets. And you’ll want the shows to be live because there is a big psychological difference between live and taped TV. You don’t want to have to work through those nerves at your first real job.
Broadcast classes for meteorologists – Colleges offer classes for public speaking, and classes for journalism, but what mets really need is a performance class with other mets. Classes ought to be taught by someone who has some previous broadcast weather experience, and gives you the opportunity to get in front of the chroma-key wall every week. In the classroom environment, you get to make those early mistakes away from live television with a instructor who can help you get better.
Our friends over at the National Weather Service in Burlington sent us over a weather clip earlier this week and “Triple-Dog-Dared” us to try and re-create it on the air. Check out the video from Valparasio University:
Now clearly its a goof, and the met actually does a really nice job pulling it off. Occasionally I see rookie broadcast meteorologists starting to talk like a NWS discussion on-air, oddly similar to the clip. Its likely a force of habit, spending afternoon in the campus meteorology office preparing the daily forecast, but when you step in front of the chroma-key wall, your vocabulary needs to change a little.
In the book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Other’s Die, Chip and Dan Heath call it the ‘Curse of Knowledge’. Its when we know more than our audience, and end up losing them in the way we deliver our message. In the beginning we tend to forget who we’re talking to, and that the choice of our vocabulary needs to be relative to the people who are watching us. Its not about talking down to your viewers, but rather explaining complicated concepts in an easy-to-understand manner.
Its important to know your audience, and every market is different. In severe weather markets, where lives are on the line during tornado outbreaks, a higher level of meteorological detail is certainly acceptable and expected. But if I think if you ask the average viewer in the average market, they would have a tough time describing what an occluded front or even the jet stream had to do with the weather. Many news directors outlaw surface maps from weathercasts completely.
So it just takes some gentle reminding and a little conditioning to help new broadcast meteorologists learn a new way to convey their forecasts. The goal is for the viewer to walk away with a clear understanding of your forecast.