It is the end of an era that began more than twenty-five years ago, when test-tube babies and compact discs were new. This week, The Boston Globe stopped running its highly regarded Monday Health/Science section and began placing its content in the paper’s trendy new “g” lifestyle tabloid, as well as its business section.
It is the latest casualty at the struggling but storied New England paper, located in what is arguably the center of the health, science, and technology universe. According to health and science editor Gideon Gil, the Globe’s nine-person specialty staff is expected to stay intact—at least for now—and coverage of everything from stem cells to climate change will still have high priority in the paper.
“I don’t see it as a serious retreat,” said Gil. “The content is all running in the paper, but going in different places. … It’s entirely occasioned by the need to cut costs. We have found a way to continue to provide essentially the same level of coverage while saving money. To me that shows a continuing commitment to covering health and science in a major way out of recognition that those are crucial topics for our community, areas that make Boston distinctive.”
But, Gil acknowledged, some hard sciences such as physics or astronomy—which don’t neatly fit into personal health or business innovation—could suffer with the disappearance of Monday’s dedicated Health/Science section. “It was nice to have our own sandbox to play in, the freedom to stretch,” he said. “Science is quirky sometimes, so a bit of serendipity is lost when we have to fit into different niches in the paper.”
“It will definitely put a crimp in the amount of science and health coverage in the paper,” said former Globe science editor Nils Bruzelius. “It will continue to be high-quality, but this can’t help but dim the overall breadth and scope of coverage when you’re fighting for space every day and defining what you do in a more narrowly focused way.”
He flew to Boston last week to join about twenty of his former Globe health and science colleagues in an Irish wake for the dearly departed Health/Science section at Donovan’s, a local pub in the Savin Hill section of Boston.
“It was very bittersweet. There was a sense that we could not have believed it would come to this. Those of us still in journalism are wondering how much worse it is going to get. A fair amount of beer helped,” said Bruzelius, who is now deputy national editor in charge of science at The Washington Post. “I would say it is a measure of how desperate things have become in the newspaper business. Even in Boston, the mecca for science, they couldn’t find a way to sustain a section devoted to health and science.”
The transition occurred quietly in Monday’s Globe, with editors using “skybox” tabs at the top of Page One to direct readers to the day’s top health and science stories. An environmental story, “Nature Gets Makeover in Forest Lab,” appeared in its new home, the business section, which will have a “science and innovation” focus on Mondays. A psychology take-out, “When Perfectionism Becomes a Problem,” was highlighted on the cover of the “g” lifestyle section, which will have a “personal health” focus on Mondays. The popular section also houses everything from music and movie reviews to puzzles and comic strips.
The last official Monday Health/Science section appeared on February 23 in the Globe’s A section, but the end has been coming for about a year. Health/Science had its own three-page section front until last April, when it moved inside the A section to accommodate the paper’s cost-cutting switch to a four-section paper, said Gil. In early 2009, the Health/Science news hole was trimmed to two pages. But, at the same time, Gil said, the paper created regular space in the A section where it began to group science-related staff and wire stories from Tuesday through Saturday.
Currently, the Globe has two health/science editors and seven staff reporters—five in the health/medicine arena, one environmental, and one basic science/biotech. In addition, another environmental reporter will be there until July on a Metcalf Institute environmental fellowship. It is an illustrious team. Staff science reporter Gareth Cook (now the paper’s Ideas editor) won a Pulitzer Prize in 2005 for his coverage of stem cell research, and environment reporter Beth Daley was a 2008 Pulitzer finalist for a series on how global warming impacts New Englanders. Excerpts from her Green Blog appeared in the Monday business section, in addition to online.