"In Epic Blunder, NY Times And Washington Post All But Abandon Specialized Climate Science Coverage"
Columbia Journalism Review slams Times for “outright lie” about its commitment to environmental coverage.
This weekend two of the premier newspapers in the country basically abandoned the story of the century — climate change — as a specialized beat. The NY Times shut down its Green Blog (fast on the heels of dismantling its environment desk) and the Washingon Post is switching its lead climate reporter, Juliet Eilperin, off the environment beat.
These epic blunders in editorial judgment essentially signal the end of the era of great national newspapers — certainly neither the New York Times nor Washingon Post qualify anymore. One can hardly be a great national newspaper while moving to slash coverage of the single most important story to the nation (and the world), the story that will have the biggest impact on the lives of readers and their children in the coming decades.
And we can finally strip the NY Times of its vaunted title “The Paper of Record.” Now, like most others, it is just a “paper of record-keeping.”
Back in January, I reported that the Times was “Widely Cricitized For Dismantling Its Environment Desk, Eliminating Editorial Positions.” Now, to compound that mistake, the NY Times has terminated its Green Blog, with this abrupt post:
The Times is discontinuing the Green blog, which was created to track environmental and energy news and to foster lively discussion of developments in both areas. This change will allow us to direct production resources to other online projects. But we will forge ahead with our aggressive reporting on environmental and energy topics, including climate change, land use, threatened ecosystems, government policy, the fossil fuel industries, the growing renewables sector and consumer choices.
Thanks to all of our readers.
Since Sandy was a freak, once-in-a-century superstorm, we figure New York is safe for another century.
OK, I added the final sentence, but still this move is doubly head-exploding in a post-Sandy world where even the media elite now know they aren’t free from the ravages of climate change. And again, we’ve only seen the impact of slightly more than a degree Fahrenheit of warming — we’re all but certain to see at least 5 times as much warming this century as we did last century, especially if the ignorati (not-so-intelligentsia?) gag themselves on the greatest story never told.
Curtis Brainard, editor of Columbia Journalism Review‘s “online critique of science and environment reporting,” slammed the move:
This is terrible news, to say the least. When the Times announced in January that it was dismantling its three-year-old environment pod and reassigning its editors and reporters to other desks, managing editor Dean Baquet insisted that the outlet remained as committed as ever to covering the environment. Obviously, that was an outright lie.
The Green blog was a crucial platform for stories that didn’t fit into the print edition’s already shrunken news hole—which is a lot on the energy and environment beat—and it was a place where reporters could add valuable to context and information to pieces that did make the paper….
In an act of total cowardice, the Times clearly timed its announcement to avoid (for the weekend, at least) having to deal with what is sure to be widespread criticism. When I called the paper shortly after 5pm on Friday, I was informed that executive editor Jill Abramson, managing editor Dean Baquet, and corporate spokeswoman Eileen Murphy were all out of the office for the day….
Those masthead editors should be ashamed of themselves. They’ve made a horrible decision that ensures the deterioration of the Times’s environmental coverage at a time when debates about climate change, energy, natural resources, and sustainability have never been more important to public welfare, and they’ve done so while keeping their staff in the dark. Readers deserve an explanation, but I can’t think of a single one that would justify this folly.
The NY Times coverage of the environment has continued its journey from bad to worse. It continues to abrogate its responsibility to inform the public about critical issues.
Slate has terrific piece, “The Times Kills Its Environmental Blog To Focus on Horse Racing and Awards Shows,” which lists some of the “the 65-odd other Times blogs” (!) saved from the axe while the green blog was beheaded:
- Five blogs on business and finance, including “Bucks: A guide to consumer tactics that helps readers sort out their financial lives,” and “You’re the Boss: Where small-business owners get news, ask questions, and learn from one another’s mistakes.”
- Four technology blogs, including “Gadgetwise: Helping consumers get the most out of their personal tech,” and “Open: A blog about code and development written by New York Times developers.”
- Five blogs on culture and media, including “The Carbetbagger,” about awards shows; “After Deadline: Notes from the newsroom on grammar, usage and style;” and “Media Decoder,” a media-industry blog that so far has not seen fit to cover the Times’ own elimination of its “Green” blog.
- Six blogs on styles, travel, and leisure, including two on fashion, two on travel, and one “all about the Times’ crossword puzzle, constructors and clues.”
- Nine sports blogs, including “On Par,” a golf blog, “Straight Sets,” a tennis blog, and “The Rail,” on horse racing.
- Six blogs on health, family, and education, including “The Choice: Help for students, parents and counselors on applying to, and paying for, college.”
So you can see the Times has its priorities straight.
This lame and ultimately self-defeating move proves one thing above all — that John Horgan, a former Scientific American staff writer, was accurate when he reported three years ago:
Two sources at the Science Times section of the New York Times have told me that a majority of the section’s editorial staff doubts that human-induced global warming represents a serious threat to humanity.
Which is another way of saying that the Science Times is run by people who simply don’t know climate science — see, for instance:
- My review of some 60 studies, “An Illustrated Guide to the Science of Global Warming Impacts: How We Know Inaction Is the Gravest Threat Humanity Faces” or the World
- Shocking World Bank Climate Report: ‘A 4°C [7°F] World Can, And Must, Be Avoided’ To Avert ‘Devastating’ Impacts
- IEA: World on Pace for 11°F Warming, “Even School Children Know This Will Have Catastrophic Implications for All of Us”
Ah, if only the editors at the NY Times were as up on the science as school children.
Of if they only read their own newspaper, then they’d know that their top international columnist, Tom Friedman, has repeatedly explained to NYT readers, The Hidden Ways Climate Change Contributes To Global Insecurity.
As for the Washington Post, they have long had a dismal editorial understanding of climate change, see, for instance:
- Shameless Flameout: Washington Post Once Again Publishes George Will’s Anti-Scientific Nonsense
- The Washington Post goes tabloid, publishes second falsehood-filled op-ed by Sarah Palin in five months — on climate science and the hacked emails!
- Washington Post Overlooks Obama’s Extensive Remarks On Climate And Energy
That is precisely why Juliet Eilperin, their top climate reporter for nearly a decade, was so important to the paper. I didn’t agree with all of her coverage, but she had a strong command of the subject. Heck, back in 2009, she was one of the reporters who took the unprecedented step of contradicting columnist George Will in a news article.
In short, Eilperin was a key counterweight to the Post’s myriad failings on climate. That’s why this announcement from deputy national editor Cameron Barr and political editor Steven Ginsberg was so unfortunate:
We’re very excited to announce the latest evolution of our political team — an online strike force that will help lead our journalism during the day. To augment our already top-notch online presence, we’re putting point people on each of our main coverage areas and shifting some roles among our bloggers to make us even faster and smarter. The team will write news and analysis, much of which will go into PostPolitics and The Fix. These reporters will also continue to coordinate closely with colleagues in their coverage areas….Without further ado, the group:
Juliet Eilperin will return to the world of politics to cover the White House. Juliet has had a terrific run on the environment beat, becoming one of the country’s leading reporters on climate change. She will continue to cover White House policy on climate from her new perch. Her high metabolism is legendary within The Post and her deep sourcing in the political world will be key to her new role.
Yes, no point in keeping one of the country’s leading reporters on climate change on the story of the century. She had a good run, but that climate story is so five minutes ago. Lord knows we don’t have enough coverage of the White House!
As an aside, “high metabolism” is a journalistic euphemism for a reporter we can work to death without actually killing her.
It would seem the Post is going to treat climate like another political horse race story — rather than what it truly is, a scientific, technological, and political race to avoid the self-destruction of modern civilization, a race that deserves the very best full-time beat reporters.
I’m still in Johns Hopkins recovering (so far, quite well) from (what appears to be successful) major pancreatic surgery, so I’ll reserve more comments on the underlying reasons for this collapse in climate coverage for a later date.
I’ll simply end by quoting a Daily Climate from early January:
“I ask myself, ‘In 20 years, what will we be proudest that we addressed, and where will we scratch our head and say why didn’t we focus more on that?’ ” said Glenn Kramon, assistant managing editor of the New York Times….
“Climate change is one of the few subjects so important that we need to be oblivious to cycles and just cover it as hard as we can all the time,” Kramon said….