Unsettling news from the New York Times: The paper is dismantling its environment desk. As reported by Inside Climate News:
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. No decision has been made about the fate of the Green Blog, which is edited from the environment desk. …
[Managing editor Dean] Baquet said the change was prompted by the shifting interdisciplinary landscape of news reporting. When the desk was created in early 2009, the environmental beat was largely seen as “singular and isolated,” he said. It was pre-fracking and pre-economic collapse. But today, environmental stories are “partly business, economic, national or local, among other subjects,” Baquet said. “They are more complex. We need to have people working on the different desks that can cover different parts of the story.”
Baquet added that the Times “[has] not lost any desire for environmental coverage. This is purely a structural matter.”
Both in interviews with Inside Climate News and online this morning, people in environmental organizations and the media world expressed concern. Several noted this morning’s story on international climate extremes as a bitter complement to the news; as I write this, it’s the most-emailed science article on the site.
But that article was written by a London correspondent, not a climate desk reporter. And while the environment desk itself is fairly new, the Times has been a bulwark of robust climate coverage for decades. While it’s not clear if the reassigned environment desk reporters will still maintain a focus on the environment in their reporting, other areas of the paper will gain new reporters with a deep knowledge of and concern about environmental issues. The Times will still continue to turn out good climate coverage.
Part of the (justifiable!) hand-wringing over the move stems from the poor reporting of climate issues elsewhere. Earlier this week, a study revealed that the number of newspapers that maintain a weekly “Science” section dropped from 95 in 1989 to 14 currently. (The Times is one of the 14.) Television news continues to give climate coverage short shrift, especially in the context of policy and politics. With public opinion suggesting that Americans link the threat of global warming with information about its effects, it’s understandably disconcerting to think that one of the most vocal outlets on the subject is changing its approach.
There’s one thing that is certain. As the months and years pass, every other bureau of the New York Times will have to deal with the effects of a changing climate: business, international, health, even sports. Having reporters close at hand who are well-versed in the subject will be an asset to the paper. The problem is less with how the Times staffs its environment coverage and far more with how few other outlets knowledgeably cover the environment at all.