Newspapers engage in an odd ritual whenever it snows or gets really cold. The weather becomes the big story on A1.
Sure, lousy weather is something that directly affects everyone in the region — but is it really news? These stories always seem more like small talk than like journalism. Passages like this are standard fare in these weather stories:
"The last three years it hasn't been so cold," Logue said as he walked his shivering schnauzer, Boogie Woogie, along the shore of Dover's Silver Lake Friday afternoon.
"This winter it's been very cold, especially in January," Logue said.
But Daniel J. Leathers, the state climatologist, has a somewhat different take on the winter of 2003-2004.
"It's been colder, but not ridiculously colder," Leathers said.
Everyone who reads the paper already knows it's cold outside. What they get from these stories is a bit of empathy and a bit of solidarity. They offer tiny pieces of hard news — mostly stats from the National Weather Service — but that's not their primary function.
Their main purpose is to allow the newspaper to say to readers, "Whew, cold out there, huh?" To which the readers can reply, "Yeah, it sure is." That's not a conversation designed to transfer information — it is, rather, a gentle reminder that we're all in this together. Like the weather, that may not be news, but it is a big story.