October 19 — Columbia Suspends Environmental Journalism Program: The world of environmental journalism suffered a much more significant blow a week later, when Columbia Unversity’s Graduate School of Journalism decided to suspend its highly regarded dual-degree program in Earth & Environmental Science Journalism. The program’s directors cited falling employment in the field, the rising costs of education, and a lack of financial aid for students—but many other journalists, academics, and former students disagreed with the ultimate decision. On the bright side, the University of Montana’s journalism school replaced its thirteen-year-old graduate program with a new one focused entirely on the environment and natural resources.
December 3 — Hacked E-Mails and “Journalistic Tribalism”: The press was actually rather slow to jump on what eventually grew into the biggest science related scandal of the year—the release of 4,000 e-mails and documents hacked from a British climate research center. Authored by a group of prominent American and British climate scientists, they contained discussions about how and when to present and release climate data and how to combat climate skeptics, among other matters. In the end, the documents did little to upset the scientific consensus about climate, but they did serve as a reminder to journalists to avoid biased, “tribalistic” reporting and to do a better job distinguishing between politics and science in their stories. CJR also ran useful primer on the legality of published hacked e-mails.
December 14 — Revkin Taking NYT Buyout: The controversy of the hacked e-mails lingered in the early coverage of the two-week international climate summit in Copenhagen, where world leaders sought to draft a treaty for reducing global greenhouse-gas emissions. Halfway through, word came that New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin, who was on assignment in Copenhagen, was taking a buyout from the paper after twenty years as a daily reporter at multiple publications. Revkin told CJR he had undergone his most difficult year in the field, with long hours and constant attacks from the right and left, including one in which the talk show host Rush Limbaugh suggested that Revkin kill himself. Revkin’s departure left a big hole in the crack environment team that the Times created at the beginning of 2009.
December 22 — Good COP, Bad COP: The end of the year proved no more auspicious for the Copenhagen summit. The meeting fizzled out with a weak and vague political statement about the 193 participating nations. Nonetheless, the summit offered an interesting glimpse into media sociology. Political deadlock and convoluted information came with the territory for journalists in Copenhagen. Beyond that, however, their objectives and experiences there were often very different. While some covered the negotiations with a traditional sense of detachment, others felt a duty to support their political delegation in a way that they would not back home. Whatever their approach, however, with no deal in Copenhagen, climate and energy will remain a hot story for journalists around the world in 2010.