WELC Blog: The New York Times Dismantles its Environmental Desk
First sign that a decision is likely a bad decision: it’s issued late on a Friday afternoon. And so it was with the New York Times’ decision—issued to the public last Friday, March 1st, at 5:00pm EST—to kill its Green Blog. The Green Blog, for years, was a go-to tracker and aggregator of information and news about environmental issues, providing valuable insight, context, and information on news and events that often didn’t make it onto the front page. The decision was particularly troubling in light of the Times’ prior decision, in January, to dismantle its environmental desk.
Curtis Brainard, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, said that the timing of the decision was “an act of total cowardice” and that the decision itself was “terrible news.” The Times’ own Public Editor, after speaking with The Times’ staff involved in the decision about their rationale—namely, that shifting environmental coverage to other desks would “drive more of these important stories onto the home page and the front page”—nonetheless said that she was “not convinced that The Times’s environmental coverage will be as strong without the team and the blog. Something real has been lost on a topic of huge and growing importance.”
Precisely. It’s easy to say that the coverage of environmental issues should be infused into the coverage of business, politics, or whatever but the media’s track record of success on this front is sorely lacking. One need only look at the absolute dearth of questions in last year’s presidential debates to understand that environmental issues are myopically viewed as second-tier, ‘niche’ issues, as if only some people care about clean air and water, healthy wildlife, and intact landscapes. And it seems quite doubtful that The Times will provide anywhere near the depth and intensity of coverage of environmental issues in the absence of having a cohesive team dedicated to environmental coverage. Indeed, it seems far more likely that the conventional wisdom—whether for business, politics, or other issues—will dominate and that environmental angles will be neglected.
If The Times was sincere in maintaining strong environmental coverage, it should have made concurrent decisions to ensure that the other coverage desks would, in fact, infuse environmental issues into their coverage. But The Times didn’t. In fact, on its opinion pages, the New York Times has allowed one of its columnists, Joe Nocera, to spout demonstrably false nonsense about such important issues as climate change and the Keystone XL pipeline. And this is unfortunate, if not tragic, given that our quest to identify better ways to harmonize humanity’s with the rest of this fair planet is ever more urgent and ever more critical—a quest that would benefit from strong, cohesive, and persistent science-based reporting.