As you may have gathered from my prior post on the matter, I was very upset when the New York Times closed its environment desk seven weeks ago– fearing that environmental coverage would take a hit at the Times, and that the decision would send the message to other outlets that environmental coverage isn’t a necessity. With the loss of both environmental editors, it comes as no surprise to me that the Times would close up shop for the Green Blog. The blog was bound to end up adrift without the guidance of dedicated editors, and would end up as collateral damage in the decision to disperse the environment desk. While unsurprising, the decision still makes me angry. In a similar fashion to the announcement of the environment desk’s closure, the Times made their announcement regarding the Green Blog on a Friday. Curtis Brainard of the Columbia Journalism Review called the timing of the announcement an act of “total cowardice”, saying that the decision was timed to avoid the widespread criticism that was sure to come in the wake of the announcement. Brainard goes on to share the same outrage that I had formerly expressed. He writes:
They’ve made a horrible decision that ensures the deterioration of the Times’s environmental coverage at a time when debates about climate change, energy, natural resources, and sustainability have never been more important to public welfare…
The decision is not only a disappointment to those on the environment beat, but for scientists as well. Dr. Holly Bik, a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of California, Davis shared her thoughts on the value of the Green Blog via Twitter, saying:
The loss of the Green Blog leaves a gaping hole in the blogosphere of the New York Times. Listed as one of only three blogs under the “Science and Environment” section, the Times’ science and environment blog readers are now left with “Scientist at Work” and “Consults” – the latter of which features experts in medicine answering to health questions posed by readers. Andy Revkin’s Dot Earth blog was moved from the news section to the Opinion section quite some time ago, but remains a beacon for the environment in an otherwise barren blog landscape.
In writing his farewell to the Green Blog, Revkin points out that the Times has nine sports blogs and nine blogs covering fashion, dining, lifestyle, and the like. ”I would like to have thought there was space for the environment in that mix,” wrote Revkin. So did I Andy, so did I.
And then my eyes welled up with tears….angry tears. How can there be NINE sports blogs and NINE fashion and lifestyle blogs, and yet there isn’t room for ONE environmental news blog?
We may take enjoyment from knowing what our favorite teams or designers are up to, but that information doesn’t hold bearing on our lives. Yet environmental issues intertwine with many important aspects of our lives- like our health, safety, and food security. The media is the leading source of environmental information for adults over the age of 35, according to a report by the National Environmental Education Foundation and Roper Reports, and plays a critical role in linking science and politics with the reality of impacts on people. While some might think of environmental journalists in a Lorax-like role, that we “speak for the trees”, really what we speak for is YOU.
Environmental coverage deserves a home. Yet with the dismantling of the Times’ environment desk, InsideClimate News reported that the nation’s top five newspapers by readership—the Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal—will have about a dozen reporters and a handful of editors among them whose primary responsibility is to cover the environment. (At the time, an exact tally could not be given since the Times had yet to reassign its reporters.) Out of the five newspapers, the LA Times is the only one to have a designated environment desk.
There is something wrong with this picture.
Out of those top five newspapers, the LA Times leads in environmental coverage- with environmental headlines making up 2.66 percent of coverage between January 2011 and May 2012, according to data provided by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. The New York Times was a close second at 2.5 percent, which leads me to wonder if having a designated environment desk is responsible for the increased coverage, and how those numbers might change for the Times in the coming months.
Using that same data, a report by the non-profit organization Project for Improved Environmental Coverage found that in the United States, coverage of the environment represented just 1.2 percent of headlines in the thirty nationally prominent news organizations ranked. Local newspapers prioritize environmental coverage 2.5 times more on average than nationally focused news organizations.
Consider the fact that the Kardashians receive nearly 50 times more media coverage than ocean acidification. What relevance do the Kardashians have on your life? None. But ocean acidification? It has dramatic effects on calcifying species such as corals, which are crucial members of reef ecosystems, and could affect marine food webs- leading to substantial changes in commercial fisheries and impacting our food security.
The issue isn’t just with print media. Despite record temperatures and a rash of extreme weather events in 2012, a Media Matters analysis found that broadcast coverage of climate change remained low. And among cable and network news outlets, Fox News has the highest percentage of headline environmental stories at 1.57 percent, compared to CNN’s measly 0.36 percent. (Imagine the irony then CNN cut its entire science, technology, and environment news staff in December 2008 when top CNN executives described environmental stories as “elite issues or liberal issues” that would not help them compete with Fox News.)
But quantity doesn’t equal quality, and Fox News is often criticized for not acting in accordance with quality journalism principles, routinely misleading viewers with biases and false facts when covering environmental stories. Is this really what we want as the main source for environmental headlines? This statistic captures the need for mainstream organizations to step up quality environmental coverage to counter the spread of misinformation.
Nearly 80 percent of Americans believe that environmental coverage should be improved. Which begs the question of those in charge of decision-making at the national mainstream news organizations- where is this disconnect in coverage coming from, and whom are you catering to? It’s about time you give the American people what they need.