At 5pm on Friday afternoon, The New York Times posted the following announcement:

The Times is discontinuing the Green blog, which was created to track environmental and energy news and to foster lively discussion of developments in both areas. This change will allow us to direct production resources to other online projects. But we will forge ahead with our aggressive reporting on environmental and energy topics, including climate change, land use, threatened ecosystems, government policy, the fossil fuel industries, the growing renewables sector and consumer choices.

This is terrible news, to say the least. When the Times announced in January that it was dismantling its three-year-old environment pod and reassigning its editors and reporters to other desks, managing editor Dean Baquet insisted that the outlet remained as committed as ever to covering the environment. Obviously, that was an outright lie.

The Green blog was a crucial platform for stories that didn’t fit into the print edition’s already shrunken news hole—which is a lot on the energy and environment beat—and it was a place where reporters could add valuable to context and information to pieces that did make the paper. An addendum to the discontinuation announcement encouraged readers, “Please watch for environmental policy news on the Caucus blog and energy technology news on the Bits blog,” but without the Green blog, there’s no way that these topics are going to get as much attention as they once did.

In an act of total cowardice, the Times clearly timed its announcement to avoid (for the weekend, at least) having to deal with what is sure to be widespread criticism. When I called the paper shortly after 5pm on Friday, I was informed that executive editor Jill Abramson, managing editor Dean Baquet, and corporate spokeswoman Eileen Murphy were all out of the office for the day.

Sandy Keenan, the former editor of the environment pod, and Nancy Kenney, the deputy editor who was responsible for the Green blog, didn’t answer their phones, either, but I can hardly blame them. An email that Kenney sent to colleagues at 5:02pm on Friday suggests that that the decision to ax the blog was made from up on high and came as a surprise. According to a copy obtained by CJR, she wrote:

Dear Friends and Contributors,

Masthead editors at The Times informed me around noon today that they plan to discontinue the Green blog and devote resources elsewhere.

Sandy Keenan and I are deeply grateful to you for your engrossing contributions and support over the last three years. Our deepest thanks to all of you. I will be following up with individual e-mails as best I can; I apologize for the abruptness here.

On Monday, I will begin a new editing assignment on the Times culture desk and will be reachable at the same e-mail address.

Fond regards,
Nancy Kenney

Those masthead editors should be ashamed of themselves. They’ve made a horrible decision that ensures the deterioration of the Times’s environmental coverage at a time when debates about climate change, energy, natural resources, and sustainability have never been more important to public welfare, and they’ve done so while keeping their staff in the dark. Readers deserve an explanation, but I can’t think of a single one that would justify this folly.

 

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Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.