The future of staffing is not certain, however, since the paper is now in a new round of newsroom buyouts. Gil doesn’t know of anybody on his staff that is applying to take one. But the paper has announced a goal of cutting as many as fifty newsroom jobs by the end of March, and no decisions have been made about which sections may lose people once the buyout/layoff process is completed. Gil said that the paper is down only one health/science reporter since he came on board in 2003, but an earlier round of buyouts around 2001 led to a wholesale loss of some of the paper’s most seasoned health and science reporters.
Bruzelius said that, at its height, the Globe’s Health/Science section had about six pages. But, he noted, the downsizing of science coverage is occurring at many papers, including The Washington Post, which is down three senior science reporters in recent years—to its current six—due to buyouts. The Post still has a Tuesday Health section, but most of its staff are gone due to a buyouts. Only three-quarters of a page in the A section each Monday is dedicated to science in addition to the regular, daily coverage.
For the wake at Donovan’s pub, Gil had his library dig out the paper’s first science section, called “Sci-Tech” when it started on April 4, 1983, which included a “medical frontiers” story on in vitro fertilization and a technology feature on “compact new digital records (that) will last longer, sound better.” It was modeled on the successful Tuesday Science Times section in The New York Times, which many still view as the gold standard for science, health and environmental coverage.
The 1980’s were the heyday of newspaper science sections and science magazines, with high but short-lived hopes built on advertising from computer companies. Ninety-five newspapers boasted weekly science sections in 1989, according to a survey at the time, but the number has been dropping ever since. A paper I prepared as a Harvard Shorenstein Center journalism fellow found only about thirty-four such sections in 2005—two-thirds of them focused primarily on consumer health—and many have shrunk dramatically in size or moved inside. Ironically, in another big science town, the Baltimore Sun started a brand-new science section in 2005, only to fold it two-and-a-half years later as the Tribune-owned paper’s fortunes fell.
Gil said thus far he has not heard much in the way of protests about the Globe’s decision to drop the Health/Science section: “I had written a script for the telephone operators, but nobody called. Either they were snowed in and couldn’t get the paper, or we communicated effectively through the editors’ notes in the paper.” There was more reaction, he noted, when the longtime section front moved inside the A section last spring.
Correction: This article was changed to reflect that the Globe intends to cut fifty newsroom jobs, not fifty reporters.
Ends today: If you'd like to help CJR and win a chance at one of
10 free print subscriptions, take a brief survey for us here.