Perhaps you were able to watch Marshall Shepherd with Bob Schieffer on CBS’ Face the Nation earlier today.
Oh, you missed it? You’ll find the video clip here.
Readers of this blog almost certainly include future presidents of the American Meteorological Society. If you aspire to such a community role, or, alternatively, feel you’re at risk of having this responsibility thrust upon you, then the clip isn’t optional viewing; it’s a must-watch. Think of it as a training film. And since we’re in the middle of the 2014 Winter Olympics, let’s give Mr. Shepherd two scores: one for substance, and a second for style, and let’s close with a few observations on degree of difficulty.
10 would be a perfect score, and as far as I can tell that’s what Mr. Shepherd actually scored, but he probably has in his own mind some idea of how he’ll do even better next time. Besides we have to leave room for those of you who’ll follow him; we can’t afford to have you simply depressed. Throughout the discussion, Mr. Shepherd continually reminded viewers of a larger continental and even global picture with some regions experiencing unusual warmth and severe drought even while the eastern U.S. experiences major storms. He refused the (mild) invitation to fall into the climate-change attribution trap. He focused on his area of expertise rather than wade into the policy options for responding to weather extremes.
Mr. Shepherd’s score was essentially perfect in this respect as well, but as before, let’s leave room. Mr. Shepherd was genial, affirming Mr. Schieffer’s questions. He saw the moment as a teaching opportunity. He kept his answers short and crisp. He used easy-to-grasp metaphors like “weather is your mood; climate is your personality,” and a seesaw metaphor noting that just as one part of the seesaw is up and the other is down, one region can be colder and wetter than usual while another might be warmer and drier. We all left the interview with “a song we could hum.”
Degree of difficulty.
Mr. Shepherd makes navigating such interviews seem deceptively easy. The reality? The questions come fast, and they’re never quite what you expect. To have a useful and responsive answer for every subject that may come up and to maintain discipline requires preparation, and practice and experience in the interview setting. The stakes are high. The difference between performing this well on Face the Nation and doing well on a university-operated public broadcasting radio station is like the difference between the Olympics and a local- or statewide-competition.
That said, the degree of difficulty is going to be higher for those of you who follow him. Currently, AMS-president interviews on Face the Nation are relatively rare. But the stakes for living on the real world are growing. Future AMS presidents are going to be interviewed on natural catastrophes producing trillion-dollar losses and/or widespread population displacements; water-resource issues across major regions, and environmental degradation on global scales. Unlike this past storm, which was widely considered to have been well forecast, some though not all of future interviews will involve defending the Earth observations, sciences, and services community from a range of criticisms and accusations.
But those challenges lie in the future. For now, Mr. Shepherd can take his place atop the medals podium.