NPR has gutted its staff dedicated to covering environmental and climate issues. Given the nation’s and world’s renewed focus on the threat posed by unrestricted carbon pollution, this baffling move is already receiving widespread criticism from scientists and media watchers. It is “a sad commentary on the current state of our media,” as one top climatologist told me.
Katherine Bagley broke the story for InsideClimate News. She reports that earlier in 2014, NPR “had three full-time reporters and one editor dedicated” to cover environmental and climate issues within NPR’s science desk. Now, shockingly, “One remains — and he is covering it only part-time.”
NPR’s climate coverage has been fairly stagnant for years, as this graph shows (click to enlarge):
Climate communications expert Dr. Robert J. Brulle of Drexel University is the source of that graph. He also emailed me a comment on NPR’s move:
The Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 that led to the founding of NPR had as one of its goals that public broadcasting would serve as a “source of alternative telecommunications services” that would serve to “address national concerns.” This latest announcement illustrates how NPR has lost its way. The level of coverage of climate change by NPR has not served to increase public knowledge of climate change any more than any other commercial news outlet. Its coverage has returned to the levels seen around 2006. Reducing the environmental staff will further decrease its coverage of climate change. I would have thought NPR would take a proactive stance toward the coverage of climate change, given its charter to address issues of national concern. Sadly, it seems that instead of being part of the solution, NPR has now become part of the problem.
An InsideClimate News analysis of NPR pieces tagged “environment,” found that the number “has declined since January … dropping from the low 60s to mid-40s every month.”
Journalists and scientists quickly criticized NPR’s move. The LA Times energy and environment reporter in Washington, D.C., Neela Banerjee, almost immediately tweeted out:
— Neela Banerjee (@neelaeast) October 24, 2014
In an email to ClimateProgress, Bagley wrote “With the impacts of climate change becoming more salient, this seems like the wrong time for a news outlet to be reducing the resources or manpower it dedicates to covering this issue.” She hopes NPR ultimately ends up where the Times did: “It closed its desk, but after much criticism and data showing that its coverage declined, the paper made environment and climate a key priority again by assigning a number of new reporters to the beat.”
Michael Mann, director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center and one of the country’s top climatologists, told ClimateProgress, “This is a sad commentary on the current state of our media and, in particular, environmental reporting. Climate change is perhaps the greatest challenge we face as a civilization. Yet NPR apparently feels that it only deserves a fraction of one reporter.”
How does NPR explain the shift?
The move to shift reporters off the environment beat was driven by an interest to cover other fields more in depth, said Anne Gudenkauf, senior supervising editor of NPR’s science desk….
Gudenkauf also said she doesn’t “feel like [the environment] necessarily requires dedicated reporters” because so many other staffers cover the subject, along with their other beats.
Personally, I don’t know anyone in the media business who shares that view. Indeed, one of the reasons that Climate Progress greatly expanded its team of reporters dedicated to covering climate change last year is precisely because major MSM outlets like the Times were slashing coverage.
Yet, ironically, at the same time that the New York Times has figured out it made a mistake cutting dedicated climate reporters, NPR has made the exact same mistake.