This Bucket of Cold Water Could Take Some of the Passion from the Weathergasms

How many times have you seen it. Team coverage with weather folks breathlessly sharing information about the acts of nature descending upon the viewing area. They show the Sooper-Dooper Gonad Storm Seeking Tracker Gajillion Watt Radar with the Fuzzy Dice add-on and they show how it can zoom down past street level to crack-in-the-sidewalk level. The screen is split into various windows with the Storm Team Trooper Weather Gang of three, five or four or however many bodies they can round up jumping around like someone gave them the hot-foot. At the bottom of the screen is the weather ticker sliding from right to left with additional information.
So recapping what we got: Eye catching weather graphics, folks telling you what’s going on, weather ticker at the bottom of the screen; that should cover everything shouldn’t it? Not according to what some folks claim in Southwest Florida and more importantly the FCC agreed with.
Here’s what happened according to a story in Shoptalk: WINK-TV, long a powerhouse operation in the Ft. Myers area, got hit with a 16-thousand dollar fine because some local hearing-impaired people said they didn’t get enough information back in August 2004 when Hurricane Charley came ashore. As with many smaller market stations, the weathercast was NOT closed captioned. At larger operations, a stenographer type person is busy translating what is said into the closed caption system so people who need to read it or want to read it can. If you’ve ever watched one of the network news shows that have a lot of live interviews you can see that some of these stenographers have a tough time keeping up. But I digress.
The station was going wall-to-wall with hurricane coverage and the fast-changing details from the weather folks and others weren’t getting on the air in the closed caption section. That, according to the article, violates federal law. So, in addition to paying the fine, the station agreed to add “real-time” captioning to all its major newscasts. And it wasn’t just WINK-TV. The NBC affiliate and the ABC affiliate (I think both are run from the same building) were hit with 24-thousand dollar fines. Their cases are still pending.
Now the Memphis area stations may already have real time captioning going on during their weather-casts, I don’t know. Perhaps somebody can share that bit of knowledge. If not, I’d think that all it will take is somebody to file a complaint wit the FCC during the next weathergasm. Of course if no weather operations in Memphis have the “real time” captioning, what better way to show they care about the community than to be the FIRST, THE FIRST I SAY to feature CLOSED CAPTIONING for WEATHER. I just hope it’s not in the form of a very early Saturday Night Live News Update. Some of you old farts may remember Garret Morris was shown in a caption window over the anchor’s shoulder shouting as loud as he could about the “top story tonight”. The bottom line: the various stations take turns bragging about what they do for the viewers. Let’s see how serious they really are. I won’t bother holding my breath.

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4 Comments on “This Bucket of Cold Water Could Take Some of the Passion from the Weathergasms”

  1. Average Guy Says:

    Joe,
    Real time captioning averages $75 per each half hour captioned. (Figure most stations do at least eight half hours of news each Mon-Fri. That’s $600 per day, $3,000 per week and more than $150k per year just for the Mon–Fri newscasts) A captioner dials into an audio feed of the newscast and provides a text version in real time. It is a fascinating process and a great career field for those struggling with what they want to do with their lives. A captioner in Kansas can do newscasts in different time zones throughout the day.

    Stations in top 50 markets are obligated to provide real time captioning. Weathergasms and the example in Florida you cite are real issues. Stations get around this by having the captioner “on-call”. With that, someone in the newsroom has to remember to notify the captioner — not always a reality in a breaking news situation. Others ways included providing all warnings in both audio and crawl plus enhanced graphics. The bottom line is the hearing impaired community is very poractive and very vocal. Smart stations realize this is a small audience with big concerns that have to be served.

    The GM

  2. UPnDC Says:

    Hi Joe…Closed Captioning is a touchy subject among broadcasters, content producers and their intended audiences. There are all kinds of rules and regulations that apply. If you like watching paint dry, you can find the rules under C.F.R. Part 79 FCC Rules. If you want the Cliff notes version, there’s good information at http://www.robson.org/capfaq/

    Several new rules have been phased in over time between August ’04 and today. One major change is that the FCC accepted newsroom software “teleprompter” copy as acceptable to meet captioning requirements. Today, it’s clear the commission has moved toward “live” captioning as what they have come to expect everyone to provide. Obviously live captioning is more expensive for broadcasters to provide, either via a full time position with freelancers, or staff, or contractual support (which is more common) typing the captions into the encoder remotely. Either way, the FCC is placing far more of the burden on the broadcaster these days to provide live captioning, and to increasingly include “emergency” situations.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    As a hearing impaired person who makes great use of closed-captioning, I can tell I haven’t found a Memphis station that close-captions its weather segment. The captions usually start into the script for the next story after the weather before someone realizes it and rewinds or whatever.

    That said, I know how to find the NWS web page, and usually check it if I’m all gassed up about the weather.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    At 5, we put a synopsis in the closed captioning but often the prompter person scrolls past it. we’ve amped up on screen crawls and such during breaking weather but could do a better job.


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