The New York Times is dismantling its topnotch 9-person environment department and reassigning its reporters and editors throughout the newspaper. The announcement was cause for alarm among some environmental journalists. “If you don't have the editorial structure to support the kind of commitment needed to do both daily coverage and deeper investigative and explanatory work, it is hard to imagine that you could keep the same level of intensity," Dan Fagin, director of New York University’s Science, Health, and Reporting Program told Inside Climate News.
But Times management insists the change is not a bad thing: “Coverage of the environment is what separates the New York Times from other papers,” Dean Baquet, managing editor for news, told Inside Climate News. “We devote a lot of resources to it, now more than ever. We have not lost any desire for environmental coverage. This is purely a structural matter."
Times Dot Earth blogger Andrew Revkin says he believes top editors’ claim. “In a century when the roots of environmental problems often lie half a planet away (consider the ivory trade, or the contribution of greenhouse gases and soot to Arctic ice melting) what's needed most is collaborative post-departmental journalism, not individual desks and editors competing for the front page,” he writes. (Revkin is more alarmed by shrinking revenue at news operations in general: “These background financial pressures building around the industry the same way that heat-trapping greenhouse gases are building in the atmosphere are what will erode the ability of today's media to dissect and explain the causes and consequences of environmental change and the suite of possible responses.”)
The Times stands out when it comes to environmental coverage, consistently leading 5 national papers in number of climate stories published, according to the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado--Boulder. What’s troubling, though, is that when the group compares U.S. newspaper coverage of climate issues to papers around the world, at the end of 2012 --the hottest in U.S. history -- U.S. papers’ climate coverage lagged, besting only South American and African publications (graph above).
Graph by CSTPR.
Reed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”