Faded green

Environment reporters endangered, regardless of exact number

InsideClimate News’s Katherine Bagley, who broke the news last week that The New York Times is dismantling its environment desk, had another hard-hitting piece on Thursday pointing out that journalists on the beat are rapidly becoming an endangered species.

There are fewer than 10 full-time environment reporters left at the nation’s top five newspapers, Bagley reported: The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times. It’s an appalling statistic, although one that is slightly misleading.

There are at least 15 people that cover the environment regularly for those outlets: Russell Gold and Keith Johnson at the Journal; Wendy Koch, Elizabeth Weise, and Dan Vergano at USA Today; Justin Gillis, Elisabeth Rosenthal, John Broder, Matthew Wald, and Mireya Navarro at The New York Times (for now); Juliet Eilperin, Steven Mufson, and Brad Plumer at the Post; and Neela Banerjee, Kenneth Weiss, and Bettina Boxall at the Los Angeles Times.

Not all of these people cover the environment full-time, but most come pretty close. And some are bloggers, but they produce original, reported work that deserves to be acknowledged. Still, the bottom line in Bagley’s article is solid and discomfiting.

“We reported precisely what the newspapers told us about their own environmental coverage,” said InsideClimate News publisher David Sassoon. “You can fairly increase the tally a bit by casting a wider net, but it doesn’t much change the story, does it?”

[Update: InsideClimate News has since issued a correction and changed its story to read that there are “about a dozen” environment reporters at the top five papers.]

Indeed, when you’re arguing about whether there are 10 environment reporters at the country’s leading papers, or 15, the situation is not good. It’s hard to say what an appropriate number would be at a time when so many newsrooms are being forced to cut back, but with energy (especially) and climate change (sort of) front-and-center in national debates about public policy and the economy, the expertise of those on the green beat is as important as ever, and there could always be more.

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Curtis Brainard writes on science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard. Tags: , , , ,