New York Times Closes Environment Desk
According to Inside Climate News, The New York Times will shut down its environment desk and assign its seven reporters and two editors to other departments. The positions of environment editor and deputy environment editor will be eliminated, and no decision has been made about the Green Blog, the content of which comes from the environment desk.
"It wasn't a decision we made lightly," said Dean Baquet, managing editor for news operations. "Coverage of the environment is what separates The New York Times from other papers. 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."
The Times announced on Dec. 3 that it was offering buyouts to 30 newsroom managers to cut costs. Baquet said the decision to dismantle the environment desk wasn't linked to budgetary concerns and that no one is expected to lose their job.
The structural change was influenced by changes in news reporting that have taken place over the past few years. Back when the desk was created in 2009, the environmental beat was seen as "singular and isolated," Baquet said. Environmental stories today are "partly business, economic, national or local, among other subjects. They are more complex. We need to have people working on the different desks that can cover different parts of the story."
"Climate change is one of the few subjects so important that we need to be oblivious to cycles and just cover it as hard as we can all the time," said assistant managing editor Glenn Kramon. "Fortunately, we still have those repeaters who cover climate change so well, and we expect to cover the subject just as aggressively going forward."
Beth Parke, executive director of the Society of Environmental Journalists, said that solid environmental coverage doesn't require a dedicated team, although the Times' decision is "worrying."
"Dedicated teams bring strength and consistency to the task of covering environment-related issues," Parke said. "It's always a huge loss to see them dismantled … It's not necessarily a weakening to change organizational structure, but it does seem to be a bad sign."
Dan Fagin, director of Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program at New York University, said he is disappointed by the Times' announcement. "The New York Times has too much editorial integrity to abandon its environmental coverage completely. But 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."
Baquet said he will be responsible for the consistency of the Times' environmental coverage. "My goal is to make sure we're producing the same level of work," he said.
Readers will have to judge the Times' output during the next few months to see if this structural change has an impact on the quality of its environmental coverage. Environmental conditions affect everyone on the planet; hopefully the Times can continue to publish high-quality news articles despite this structural change.
Image by JD Hancock, courtesy of Creative Commons licensing.