“Keeping Environmental Reporting Strong Won’t Be Easy,” Warns Public Editor
The New York Times will close its environment desk in the next few weeks and assign its seven reporters and two editors to other departments. The positions of environment editor and deputy environment editor are being eliminated.
InsideClimate News reported in their Friday scoop that the Times insists this won’t affect coverage. But I’m very skeptical, as are a great many others, judging by comments echoing through the blogosphere, twitter, and my inbox.
For instance, the award-winning journalist Peter Dykstra — a 17-year veteran of CNN now publishing the Daily Climate — sent me this note sharing his too-relevant experience:
It’s far from a precise match for our situation at CNN four years ago — we all got fired, not re-shuffled. And of course, CNN will never be confused with the Times. But CNN similarly assured everyone that coverage would not be affected. One area where a decision like this would likely have the same impact at the Times that it did at CNN: When you abolish a standalone beat, it sends a strong message to every career-conscious reporter and editor that chasing environment stories is not a path to advancement.
Anyone who follows climate science, solutions, and politics knows that climate change is in the process of emerging as the story of the century — and that’s only if every major country pulls together to rapidly transform the global economy to avoid catastrophe. If the climate silence and inaction continues, it may well be the story of the millennium — see NOAA: Climate change “largely irreversible for 1000 years,” with permanent Dust Bowls in Southwest and around the globe.
So I also think that, as the still-influential “paper of record,” it sends a very bad message to the rest of the media. That was a point Dr. Robert J. Brulle of Drexel University, whom the NYT quoted last year as “an expert on environmental communications,” made in an email:
The decision by the New York Times to close its environmental desk accelerates the disappearance of climate change from our public discourse. Over the past year, the Obama Administration has been silent on the topic, and we have just had a Presidential campaign in which climate change was never discussed. Now the Times is closing its environmental desk. Despite their official statements to the contrary, this move will reduce the paper’s institutional focus and capacity to report on environmental issues.
Media coverage of climate change has an enormous impact on both public opinion and the policy agenda. As the leading U.S. paper, the New York Times also influences the rest of the media. This act sends an important message that environmental issues no longer justify a special institutional focus. We can only hope that the other news media do not follow the Times’ “lead” in abdicating their responsibility to environmental reporting.
Nobody is terribly happy about this, but some are considerably more unhappy than others. The paper’s public editor has a long column headlined, “Keeping Environmental Reporting Strong Won’t Be Easy.” She quotes a wide range of opinions and concludes: