On the New York Times Killing Its Green Team

March 4, 2013
  • Eva Dienel

    Former Associate Director, Communications, BSR

Eva Dienel, Associate Director, Communications, BSR

It may not be wise for someone in my position—that is, someone charged with pitching media—to criticize a major news outlet, but I’m going to do it anyway: The New York Times’ two-part decision to kill its green coverage (first to disband its environment desk, and on Friday to “bid adieu” to its green blog) was a big mistake.

The Times has contributed vital environmental coverage over the years, and it’s true that newspapers across the country are seeing a decline in paying readers, forcing editors to make tough decisions to cut major content areas. But seeing a mainstream media outlet retreat on green coverage, even as it promises to “forge ahead with aggressive reporting on environmental and energy topics,” is akin to the local school district saying it plans to cut music and art and cover those subjects in math class instead.

It’s a good sign that niche publications are eager to pick up the slack: My former Mother Jones colleague Clara Jeffery noted in a tweet shortly after this news that the collaborative media effort Climate Desk is actually hiring, and Bloomberg.com Sustainability Editor Eric Roston invited “laid off” Times bloggers to write for him. But these sites preach to the converted. It’s telling that one of the commenters on the Times’ final green blog was a smug climate denier.

Devoted environmental journalists like Andy Revkin, who carries the torch for the Times by maintaining his prolific Dot Earth blog, have noted that issues like climate change tend to be “slow drip.” In news lingo, this means they’re not sexy. And the reality of the modern newsroom, where the number of clicks a story generates can determine which subjects get covered, means that the nuanced articles providing context and examining complex solutions won’t see the light of day.

The New York Times’ dedicated environmental coverage served an important purpose: It connected the dots to tell a complete story of intertwining problems—how business and politics and culture all combine to affect our natural environment. And it also connected people who care about a host of different issues (cars and fashion and technology and other things that apparently the Times still has money to support in the blog form).

As an outlet with a mission to publish “all the news that’s fit to print,” the Times did what old-fashioned newspapers are supposed to do: Gather a diverse crowd around a common campfire to hear a collection of stories that are important to us all. The environment is one of those.

At BSR, we work with business to develop sustainability solutions, and the Times, as a media business, has a significant role to play in advancing awareness and unpacking the solutions to these complex challenges.

I’m disappointed the New York Times is shirking its duty.

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