2013 was a big year for climate news. In May, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide passed the 400 parts per million threshold for the first time in millions of years. In June, President Obama announced his Climate Action Plan, and in November, the monster typhoon, Haiyan slammed into the Philippines.
2013 was also the year that the New York Times decided to close its environment desk and conclude coverage of energy and environment issues on its Green Blog. The seven reporters and two editors dedicated to environment coverage were assigned elsewhere, and a dozen Green Blog contributors were bid farewell.
The decision was met with disbelief and consternation by many, although readers were promised that The Times’s environmental coverage would be as aggressive as ever, and that the decision was purely structural.
In the Columbia Journalism Review, Curtis Brainard wrote that “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.”
Now, almost a year later, Margaret Sullivan, public editor at the New York Times, has reviewed how environmental coverage has fared at The Times since the “structural” changes, and the news is not good.
Maxwell T. Boykoff, who tracks media coverage of the environment at the University of Colorado, reported to Sullivan that The Times published just 247 print articles that prominently featured climate change between April and September of last year, In 2012, there were 362 such articles during the same time period – that’s a decline of about one third.
Furthermore, in that six-month period since the environment desk closed, there were only three front-page stories in which climate change was the main focus, compared with nine the year before.
Former Green Blog contributor, Rachel Nuwer, said that the reported drop in coverage is “very disappointing, but not at all surprising.”
David Sassoon, founder and published of InsideClimate News, which first reported on the Times’s decision, had even stronger words.
“The result is exactly what you’d expect when you eliminate the position of environment editor and deputy environment editor from the newsroom,” he said in an email. “It’s a grave error in judgment that the paper should correct as soon as possible.”
Full disclosure: Joanna Foster was a contributor to the New York Times Green blog.