Muckraker: Grist on Politics

CNN announced yesterday that it is cutting its entire science, technology, and environmental news staff. Columbia Journalism Review takes a good look at the implications.

The network has tried to assure folks that this doesn’t mean they’re axing their environmental coverage. “We want to integrate environmental, science and technology reporting into the general editorial structure rather than have a stand alone unit,” CNN spokesperson Barbara Levin told CJR. “Now that the bulk of our environmental coverage is being offered through the Planet in Peril franchise, which is produced by the Anderson Cooper 360 program, there is no need for a separate unit.”

But many observers are justifiably concerned that this is the worst time to be cutting back on reporters and producers with knowledge on and experience in covering these issues. Here’s more from CJR:

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A source at the network, who asked not to be named, said the move is a strategic and structural business decision to cut staff, unrelated to the current economic downturn. Financially, “CNN is doing very, very well,” the source said, and none of the health and medical news staff has been cut. Yet the big question, of course, is whether or not the reorganization will decrease the overall amount of CNN’s science, technology, and environment coverage. CNN says no, but it’s hard to imagine that it won’t — Anderson Cooper or not, fewer people is fewer people.

What’s more, the decision to eliminate the positions seems particularly misguided at a time when world events would seem to warrant expanding science and environmental staff.

“It’s disheartening,” said Christy George, who is president of the Society of Environmental Journalists and has worked closely there with Peter Dykstra, CNN’s outgoing executive producer for science and technology. “For the last year or two, television has, in general, been making a commitment to beefing up its environmental coverage.” In particular, clean energy has moved to center stage in our global political and economic discourse, and President-elect Barack Obama recently reaffirmed his commitment to tackling climate change. “There is going to be a lot to cover in science, technology, and environment,” George pointed out, “and it’s not going to be enough to just cover the politics of it to keep people informed.”

Andy Revkin has more to say at Dot Earth.

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Last week, NBC Universal announced (right in the middle of Green Week, no less) that it is cutting the entire staff of The Weather Channel’s “Forecast Earth” environmental program, along with the posts of several meteorologists.