Stay tuned for the weather

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Sledders in Central Park. (AP PHOTO/SETH WENIG)
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Weather has been an elemental force in the news business from its very beginnings. But in digital media a small number of specialty players have dominated the weather-news business, often employing cheap S.E.O. tricks to monetize information millions of users are searching out every minute on the web.

Now, with the question of climate change arising at each weather event and the should-have-been-obvious dominance of weather as a topic in the digital sharing economy, general-interest news organizations are waking up to the sunny prospect of disrupting the category to provide a high-minded place to talk about the weather.

Things picked up when Slate brought on Twitter weather-wonk Eric Holthaus last month; more recently, Mashable brought on Andrew Freedman as the first member of its new “climate desk.”

But perhaps the sign that the weather is coming of age in the digital smart set is the news, reported yesterday by Buzzfeed’s Charlie Warzel, that Gawker is creating a site dedicated to weather coverage, to be tentatively called The Vane.

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“I just thought it would be fun?” was as far as Gawker editor John Cook would go toward explaining the move when Capital asked quite seriously about the revenue and audience opportunity Gawker media saw in The Vane. “It was [Deadspin editor] Tommy Craggs' idea to begin with,” he added.

It almost seemed as though Gawker’s tongue was planted in its cheek. A new approach to verticals, encouraged by the site’s Kinja commenting system, allows for the fairly quick and independent editorial rollout of mini-sites without a lot of testing or strategic planning.

Also: there wouldn’t have been much to say about the weather for a Gawker site before the category exploded outside the confines of the banal coverage on The Weather Channel and weather.com.

So what do the others see in the category?

Executive editor and chief content officer at Mashable Jim Roberts told Capital there is a built-in audience for what he repeatedly called climate coverage.

“Whenever I share a story that has to do with climate change or extreme weather or something related to it, it gets shared a lot,” Roberts wrote in an email to Capital. “I just have that sense that it’s something that people care about. Some of them care from a political standpoint, it’s a hot political subject in many ways.”
Roberts said there is a void to fill in climate coverage.

“I’m a huge fan of the work that Andy Revkin did for years at The New York Times,” Roberts, who left the Times for Mashable, said. “He was truly one of those real ground-breaking writers ... he hasn’t been as active as he had been and I guess you could say there is a journalistic opportunity to step in and do some of the work he did for the Times.”

Roberts said he doesn’t want Freedman to focus on day-to-day weather reports but rather on the science behind “extreme weather” and climate. “I’m not looking for a weatherman or a weather forecaster,” he said.