Weather creed: Good stories and plenty of them
To butcher the creed of another venerable American institution, the post office, neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night — nor now, the bitterest of cold — can escape the imaginations of news people hungry for drama.
We do love a good weather story.
And why not? What else were you talking about this week? National health care? The federal budget? The primary election campaign? The Velveeta shortage?
OK, well, maybe images of a looming Velveeta-less Super Bowl party captured a few contemplative moments, but it's more likely that the first thing you brought up in conversation with your friends or co-workers this week, the last thing you left them with and much of what you discussed in between was the bitter cold. And if that's what you want to talk about, we're only too happy to oblige.
The trick is creating a presentation that recognizes the magnitude of the cold snap without tipping into the realm of ridiculous sensationalism. This is January, after all, and we do live in Chicago. No one should be too surprised by snow or bitter cold. But the conditions of the past few days took circumstances to the extreme. The cold was serious, and it posed all sorts of serious practical challenges that every Chicago-area resident needs to be aware of.
These include, of course, the tips we provided Sunday on how to prepare for the then-coming arctic blast, the warnings we included in Monday's story, our Tuesday article on how to keep both your family and your pets safe, the descriptions of the black-ice threat we published Wednesday and today's listing of five concerns to give attention to as the abrupt thaw arrives.
Such practical safety articles are fundamental to our mission as a local news source, both online and in print. But an interesting thing about these weather events of historic proportions is that they touch on every aspect of our goals to be different, useful and relevant. They provide stunning images, for example, such as Mark Welsh's moving front-page portrait Tuesday of a face-masked commuter slogging through the snow and mist as a morning train pulled away. They led to captivating video like Bob Chwedyk's engaging piece on commuters waiting for their train and Joe Lewnard's informative video story on keeping your furnace in top shape. And they offer opportunities for unexpected reflection, as in Burt Constable's Tuesday column about the challenges of burying the dead in such conditions. They certainly are a chance for readers to share their experiences as many did with Jake Griffin.
The inherent drama of such times always brings the potential to slip into melodrama, so we constantly seek a tone that emphasizes concern while striving to avoid alarm. Too much doomsaying in the midst of a Chicago winter can easily have an opposite effect, turning away skeptics who have decades of experience with Midwestern Januarys instead of warning everyone that this January, this cold spell is something to prepare for.
And something worth remembering.
As weather events happen in Chicago, I expect we'll have another opportunity or two for weather sensations before this long year is out. Spring floods perhaps. A crushing summer heat spell. Heck, we still have plenty of time this winter for one of those 100-year blizzards we seem to get every decade or so. Whatever the case, our creed — with the possible exception of that poetic but mysterious "gloom of night" threat — is to find a way to keep you talking and help keep you safe.
• Jim Slusher, email@example.com, is an assistant managing editor at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
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