Archive for March, 2012
Austin’s three mayoral candidates will meet in a debate to be simulcast live on KXAN-TV and kxan.com on April 11 at 12:15 p.m. Candidates Lee Leffingwell, Brigid Shea and Clay Dafoe will meet in the Bass Lecture Hall at the LBJ School of Public Affairs on the campus of the University of Texas.
KXAN news anchor Robert Hadlock will moderate and will be joined by panelists Sherri Greenberg, director of the Center for Politics and Governance (CPG) at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, Community Impact Newspaper General Manager Andrea Leptinsky and Austin American-Statesman Editorial Writer Alberta Phillips.
Viewers may submit questions to be answered directly by the candidates by using KXAN.com, sending an email to email@example.com or through TWITTER @KXAN_News.
Tickets for limited seating at the debate will be available to the public on a first-come first-served basis on the CPG website.
Fifth and last in a series
While weather is very important at all local news operations, at Time Warner Cable’s Your News Now (YNN) it’s the key branding element in the 24-hour cable station’s arsenal. With “Weather On the 8s” as the major tag line, Chief Meteorologist Burton Fitzsimmons is a very important person at YNN. Does he feel the pressure?
“I feel some pressure because we clearly highlight weather, but at the same time we know that’s why people tune in,” Fitzsimmons said. “From a weather standpoint, we never sleep.”
That’s almost true. On a normal day, at least one of the five YNN meteorologists is on duty from 3:30 a.m., when Fitzsimmons starts the day, until 11 p.m. Eight hour shifts are the norm.
Fitzsimmons was creating computer graphics even while he was in high school and actually began as a computer science major at the University of Texas before switching to radio-television-film for his degree. His skills come in handy now as he begins his workday by creating the weather graphics he will need.
At 5 a.m., he begins taping his first six weathercasts, plus four more exclusively for YNN’s Waco channel, all of which run during the 5-6 a.m. hour. His first live weathercast is often at 6 a.m. if the weather is the newest piece of news available to the producer. The 6:08 weather is live, followed “on the eights” by the taped weathercasts from the 5 a.m. hour. Each taped piece runs three times, unless Fitzsimmons has significant new weather information which warrants him going live at any point.
“Each weathercast has a theme, a highlight,” Fitzsimmons said. “We try to always find a creative way to present the information to our morning viewers who are getting ready for work and school and not really watching as much as listening.”
Fitzsimmons’ early morning duties also include writing weather discussions for the web site, Facebook and Twitter, a forecast for KUT radio, and an audio recording for a radar channel, an automated loop people can access anytime. He completes his shift by taping new forecasts for the remainder of the morning hours.
Like his competitors at the network affiliate stations, Fitzsimmons marvels at the sometimes rapidly changing Central Texas weather.
“The weather here can swing from wonderful to wicked in a matter of hours,” Fitzsimmons said. “Predicting weather is both a science and an art form. I get to do two of my favorite things–play with computers, still help people and even save lives.”
The YNN weathercaster and his colleagues rely on various computer models that are updated throughout the day. With its “always on” format, YNN is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the new information. Still, Fitzsimmons says it’s up to the forecaster to choose the information he or she feels is most correct based on experience.
“I have actually found the Farmer’s Almanac to be spot-on this year with its prediction of a cooler and wetter winter for Texas,” Fitzsimmons said.
Fitzsimmons, who joined YNN in 2000, has used his technical background to work with his station’s web team to develop a web site that allows the forecasters to enter all new weather information in one place. The update then shows up on 10 different maps on all platforms and only takes 90 minutes to populate.
Time Warner has also given him a hand in installing systems and training people at some of its other outlets around the country.
“Time Warner has invested a lot in training,” Fitzsimmons said. “I’ve tried to help the weather people in the other markets convert from a broadcast to a cable style of thinking. It doesn’t sound like much but it requires a big change in mentality.”
As chief meteorologist, Fitzsimmons has a supervisory role for the weather team. He says he has kept his early morning shift, despite the hardship of rolling out of bed at 2:30 a.m., because he can set the “tenor and tone” of YNN’s coverage in the morning.
Fitzsimmons has hiring responsibility for new meteorologists, conducting interviews and making recommendations to News Director Michael Pearson for his final decision.
“We train a lot to make sure everyone is completely up to speed,” Fitzsimmons said. “I have a great staff and I wouldn’t be successful without them.”
The staff includes nine year-veteran Rich Segal, Adam Krueger, three years with the station, and Dan Robertson and Mary Wasson who joined last year. All are veterans of both Austin TV and other markets.
In what has become a broken record for this series on Austin’s chief meteorologists, Fitzsimmons praises the work of his competitors at the network affiliates.
“We see each other four-five times a year and they have helped in part in getting me to where I am today,” Fitzsimmons said. “The National Weather Service says we are one of tightest-knit groups of local forecasters in the country in terms of both working with them and in partnering with the community.”
The YNN weather team tries to schedule a remote appearance at least once a week at a school or science-related story.
“School visits are a very rewarding part of my job and we rarely say no,” Fitzsimmons said. “I got interested in this career when a San Antonio TV weather man visited our school.”
Fitzsimmons says some of the best storm chasers in the country live here and he has accompanied them on a successful trip to the Panhandle where he saw tornadoes form right over his head.
“I still talk to the storm chasers here three-four times each week and use their pictures when they live stream back from the scene,” Fitzsimmons said.
The severe weather came a bit too close several months ago when Fitzsimmons, while on duty, tracked wind shear as it moved within 1,300 yards of his East Austin house. He lost his back door, but otherwise escaped serious damage.
Fitzsimmons, who will admit only to an age in the late 30s, grew up on his family’s farm perched on a hill south of San Antonio. From that vantage point, he could watch the weather cycle develop as wispy clouds turned to threatening weather.
“I didn’t have to chase storms, I had a great show all the time,” Fitzsimmons said.
An engineer at KSAT-TV introduced him to the “gadgetry” of TV. At UT, he switched his major from computer science to radio/TV/film after working at the student TV station and realizing how he could use technology in weather and do something with it.
While still in school, he worked at KEYE-TV in master control but convinced weather guys Troy Kimmel, now KEYE’s chief meteorologist, and Dan Robertson, who ironically now works for Fitzsimmons, to give him pointers on doing TV weather. He convinced his news director to let him do the Christmas Day weather in 1998.
“Every day since has been easier than that day,” Fitzsimmons laughed.
Armed with demo tapes, he got a job at KTAL-TV, Shreveport for a year, then learned about a new 24-hour cable operation beginning in Austin. He landed the weekend weather job in 2000, moved on to the morning show two years later and there he remains. He was named chief meteorologist in 2005.
In addition to his UT degree, Fitzsimmons earned a certified broadcast meteorologist certificate from Mississippi State University. He is an active member of the National Weather Association and an associate member of the American Meteorological Society.