Public Editor Margaret Sullivan of The New York Times. Photo: The New York Times

By MARGARET SULLIVAN
23 November 2013

(The New York Times) – Early this year, The Times came under heavy criticism from many readers who care deeply about news coverage about the environment — especially climate change.

In January, The Times dismantled its “pod” of reporters and editors devoted to that subject. And in March, it discontinued its Green blog, a daily destination for environmental news. [cf. The New York Times kills its environmental blog to focus on horse racing and awards shows, For New York Times environmental reporting, intentions may be good but the signs are not].

Times editors emphasized that they were not abandoning the subject — just taking it out of its silo and integrating it into many areas of coverage.  The changes were made for both cost-cutting and strategic reasons, they said, and the blog did not have high readership. Readers and outside critics weren’t buying it. They scoffed at the idea that less would somehow translate into not only more, but also better.

So what has happened since? And where does the situation stand now? I talked to Times journalists and outside observers who are close readers of The Times’s environment coverage — including former Vice President Al Gore, a leading voice and a former newspaper journalist himself. And with the help of a news assistant, Jonah Bromwich, my office did its own analysis.

Some observations:

  • The quantity of climate change coverage decreased. Maxwell T. Boykoff, who tracks media coverage of the environment at the University of Colorado, said that from April to September of last year, The Times’s print edition published 362 articles in which climate change featured prominently. In the same six months this year, that number dropped significantly — by about a third — to 242 articles. However, he warned: “It’s complicated. We can be lulled into thinking that more coverage is better; that’s not always true.”  And the amount of news coverage, of course, often corresponds to particular events or controversies. (Overall U.S. news coverage of climate change has plummeted, he said, after peaks in 2007 and 2009.)
  • Beyond quantity, the amount of deep, enterprising coverage of climate change in The Times appears to have dropped, too. In that six-month period this year, there were only three front-page stories in which climate change was the main focus, compared with nine the year before. All three were written by the excellent science reporter Justin Gillis, and two of three were pegged to a specific global warming milestone (the other had to do with President Obama’s policy on the environment). With fewer reporters and no coordinating editor, what was missing was the number and variety of fresh angles from the previous year — such as a September article on what is being revealed beneath that Arctic ice melting at a record pace. [more]

After Changes, How Green Is The Times?

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