The difference between The Weather Channel and other news outlets is that climate stories trump trending topics. Yet major events like tsunamis, storms and twisters aren’t all TWC wants to cover. In recent years, The Weather Channel has produced a number of award-winning long-arc investigations about the way climate effects culture, livelihoods and health.
For Blink, Spencer Smith talks with Edecio Martinez, TWC Senior Editor of Visual Storytelling and Innovation, about reporting short-term weather patterns and forecasting demand for larger-scope news features.
Spencer: What kind of original content does The Weather Channel produce?
Edecio: Most importantly, we cover breaking world weather news ranging from hurricanes to tornadoes to earthquakes. We utilize freelance photographers and journalists to get reporting from the field that we can bring to the audience on our site and app. But we’re also always looking for feature stories with a strong weather angle. We’ve run pieces on wildfire refugees, fracking and the legacy of Hurricane Katrina. We’re open to a lot of things that might surprise photographers.
Spencer: What do you look for when hiring a freelancer? Any suggestions in best practices for freelancers?
Edecio: The single most important thing that we look for is people who can tell a human-driven story in a single photo. Bringing these massive forces of nature into the human arena is difficult, but when it happens, the results are really powerful. We also look for people who have experience shooting in severe weather. It requires a certain set of skills and comfort-level to shoot in these conditions.
Edecio: In breaking new situations, it’s imperative to keep constant communication. Where are you? What are you seeing? What are you getting? I know that’s tough — especially if infrastructure has been affected — but it is helpful for us to know what’s coming in. In more feature-y assignments, communication is key, too. Just so that we both know what’s expected — and what we’re hoping for — before the first photos get taken.
Spencer: What are the best ways to pitch to The Weather Channel?
Edecio: Firstly, photographers shouldn’t have a preconceived notion of what we’re interested in. Yes, we publish pieces on wildfires and typhoons. And climate change and its impacts are definitely part of our mandate. But our interests are broader than that. There are a lot of areas that are strongly influenced by the weather — outdoor life, travel, environmental health — we’re interested in all these areas.
“Yes, we publish pieces on wildfires and typhoons […] but our interests are broader than that.” — Edecio Martinez.
On the other hand, if you capture amazing photos of some extreme weather event, please call us first! But I think pitching us is easy. Know what you’re going out to capture, have some previous work ready for us to look at, and we are happy to talk.
Spencer: What are the nuances of covering weather and how does it differ from traditional editorial news?
Edecio: The biggest nuance is that there’s a real mix of predictability and unpredictability. We know that there will be storms, we know the geographical area, but exactly how it’s going to play out on the ground sometimes isn’t clear until pretty late in the game.
We have amazing meteorologists who make sure that we have an opportunity to get out ahead of the story. However, relatively small changes, a couple dozen miles in one direction or the other can cause change of plans.
Spencer: How is covering unexpected disasters like earthquakes different from predictable ones, like blizzards?
Edecio: Covering unexpected events fits more into the “traditional” news mode. It’s reactive. We have no opportunity to line up photographers on the ground beforehand, so we’re scrambling like most news outlets. The difference between us and other outlets in this situation, though, is that an event like an earthquake will immediately become our primary concern. We aren’t worrying, say, about pushing election coverage to make room for it. It is our priority.
Spencer: Can you tell us about the web documentary that you just won an Emmy for?
Edecio: The Real Death Valley looked at migrants who have died in the heat while attempting to evade a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint in Texas. This was the product of a joint investigation with Telemundo and The Investigative Fund that wound up winning an Emmy for “Outstanding Investigative Journalism in Spanish.”
We’ve invested in serious investigative journalism, in photo features, in magazine-style pieces. Last year we won almost twenty awards for our work, including an IRE Medal, the George Polk Award, awards from NY Press Club and awards from the Society of Professional Journalists to name a few. I think the The Real Death Valley is a nice example of something you probably wouldn’t expect from The Weather Channel.