Andrew C. Revkin, one of the most influential and respected reporters on the environment, will take a buyout from The New York Times as part of the paper’s current round of budget cuts. His departure, after nearly fifteen years at the Times, is sure to leave a big hole in the publication’s coverage of climate change at a time when this controversial issue—and what to do about it—is at the top of the American and international agenda as never before. Revkin is currently on assignment covering the Copenhagen climate change summit and will step down from his staff reporting post next Monday after returning to New York.
Although Revkin will leave the Times’s staff, he told CJR he hopes to continue writing his popular New York Times blog, Dot Earth, at least through the end of the year and is talking with the paper’s management about continuing to do so on a contract basis beyond that. He has also accepted a new position as a “senior fellow for environmental understanding” at Pace University, where he will teach, write and develop new environmental programs at the Pace Academy for Applied Environmental Studies in White Plains, New York. He received an honorary doctorate from Pace in 2007.
“I want to look at the role of journalism in the larger world of environmental communication, how information matters in terms of policy and behavior,” Revkin, 53, said in a recent interview. He plans to join the Pace Academy in February for the spring semester. Revkin’s editor at the Times, Erica Goode, declined to comment on his imminent departure, saying that she is not at liberty to discuss the buyouts.
[Update: Late this morning, Goode confirmed that Revkin would be leaving the staff, but continuing to do his Dot Earth blog for the Times.
“We’re really sorry that Andy is leaving,” Goode said. “Obviously, his enormous depth of knowledge is of such great value here. But I also know that he is doing something he wants to do and that he had been thinking about this for a number of years…. Dot Earth is an important and popular part our environmental coverage. I’m delighted that he will continue to keep doing it.”]
In addition, Revkin will focus on writing books, including a new one about climate change, the environment, and the linked issues of sustainability and population — “how the Earth can head toward 9 billion people in 2050 with the fewest regrets,” he said. This is the topic explored on Dot Earth, whose audience has grown to about 300,000 unique visitors each month since he started it in October 2007. Revkin is also finishing a book on “the age of disasters” for middle-school children.
“I need to do more synthesis. I haven’t had time for years,” said Revkin, adding that he has been thinking of making a shift toward academia for the last two years. Since joining the Times in 1995, his front-line reporting on climate change has often led the way for national and international coverage of the issue. In a career spanning more than 25 years, Revkin has become one of the most versatile, prolific and pioneering multimedia science journalists covering all aspects of the environment, from basic science to rough-and-tumble policy and politics.
On a personal level, he said that 2009 “has been the hardest year I’ve experienced on this beat,” including virtually around-the-clock coverage for both the print edition and his blog. Moreover, Revkin has increasingly found himself—and his paper’s coverage—the target of critics on both the right and the left, particularly in the often vitriolic blogosphere. He described himself as “an advocate for scientific reality,” not for either side of the debate. “The stakes are clearly higher now,” Revkin said, “[it’s] jaw-dropping to see how far things can go.”
Most recently, he was in the unusual position of covering the emerging “Climategate” controversy over leaked emails from prominent American and British climate scientists, while also being part of the story: In one email, Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University, warned a colleague to be careful of what he shared with “Andy” because, “He’s not as predictable as we’d like.” (A piece by Times public editor Clark Hoyt recently concluded that Revkin and the paper “handled Climategate appropriately—a story, not a three-alarm story.”