There are signs of new life that may help offset the losses, too. The Observatory has noted the recently created Ohio River Radio Consortium, a small group of public radio stations with a mission to “increase environmental literacy about the most critical issues affecting the bioregion of the Ohio River Valley.” Also, although World Watch magazine is folding, the institute’s president, Flavin, said it will put additional resources into its Web site, which already includes four strong blogs, Revolt, Nourishing the Planet, Green Economy, and Transforming Cultures. The goal is for the site to feature work comparable to what the magazine has published, but under the institute’s moniker.

“We considered the possibility of a pure online magazine, but after looking at other models of publications that had done that, we decided that wasn’t the best route,” Flavin said. “A major revamp of the institute’s Web site is in the works. In the meantime, we’ve started to step up the effort to include more stories on the homepage, the issue area pages and on the blogs.”

Flavin thinks the financial woes of the print magazine reflect general problems in publishing, but not environmental publications in particular. “There’s a tremendous interest from the public,” he said. “The amount of environmental information flowing in the world is probably at its highest level ever. But it’s a crowded information environment, and the medium has changed.”

We will see. In the March/April issue of World Watch magazine, Ben Block assessed the health of climate change coverage following the Copenhagen summit. He issued a warning that bears repeating here:

The financial decline of traditional journalism organizations has stifled investigative and foreign news. While online news and social media are spreading more information more widely and rapidly, the growing lack of explanatory journalism may nonetheless result in a less informed public. The trend should be a concern for anyone dedicated to environmental sustainability. Journalism’s economic adversity not only diminishes the ability of newsrooms to generate insightful, balanced reports on science-related topics such as climate change, it also limits our understanding of how governments and industry are responding to our global environmental crisis.

The public’s limited understanding of environmental issues necessarily limits the sense of urgency that moves governments and industries to action in the first place. We hope the loss of World Watch and and The Environment Report isn’t a vicious cycle in the making.

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Brett Norman is a reporter for Politico.