After a mere two-year run, The Wall Street Journal has, for some inexplicable reason—or, rather, for some reason it refuses to explain—canceled its highly regarded energy blog, Environmental Capital.
Three weeks ago, the blog’s lead author, Keith Johnson, unexpectedly posted a short entry announcing that Environmental Capital was “closing its virtual doors” after more than 2,000 posts. The decision apparently came as a surprise to Journal staffers.
“As a matter of policy we don’t discuss editorial decisions, but we remain committed to covering environmental business issues in our news pages,” Dow Jones spokesman Robert Christie told CJR in an e-mail.
It’s unfortunate that Dow Jones and Journal are so tight-lipped about such decisions. When Environmental Capital launched in January 2008 (actually, it was more of a re-launch of the paper’s Energy Roundup blog, which had existed since January 2007), it introduced itself with the peculiar line, “No, your computer isn’t misfiring.”
That was because Rupert Murdoch, who had recently purchased Dow Jones, was then showing signs of a “green bend” despite the anti-environmental points of view often espoused by his publications. Asked whether or not the launch of Environmental Capital was a result of the new boss’s proclivities, all Christie would say at the time was, “The Environmental Capital blog was planned long before the News Corp. acquisition. Like all the news content published by the Journal, the content on the blog is decided by the managing editor and his staff.”
The trouble with such terse responses is that other outlets trying to decide how to prioritize environmental coverage could benefit from the Journal’s insights. Was the cancellation of Environmental Capital a money issue? A traffic issue? Or just some editorial whim?
Environmental Capital was, without a doubt, a valuable service. CJR recently named the blog’s morning news roundup, “Green Ink,” as one of the best places to start one’s daily reading. After that, the blog usually delivered three to four insightful posts per day on the latest energy and environment news, often maintaining a nice balance between political, business, and sci/tech angles.
In early January, Leah Lamb, the online producer for Current.com’s Green channel, wrote a column for The Huffington Post calling environmental journalists an “endangered species.” Environmental Capital’s Johnson appeared on a list of some of the most distinguished individuals left in the field, and he certainly deserved to be there. Ironically, however, the list appeared the day after he’d written his farewell post.
That farewell post has attracted 126 comments voicing near-unanimous support for the blog. Julie Bateman, a college student in Michigan, had this to say:
Dear Mr. Johnson & Co,
I’ve really enjoyed your WSJ blog, in fact it’s been my home page for the past year, suppose I’ll need to find a new one now. I study Civil & Environmental Engineering at University of Michigan and found your site to be the best for clean energy technology and business news.
Environmental Capital has been uniquely helpful for me and just a quick story to tell how helpful your blogs have been. In late summer you wrote an article on solar power panel glut while a group of us from engineering, architecture, business, and anthropology were working on designing a sustainable school and field station in the Brazilian Pantanal. We are now working on logistics for construction this summer and we have used to our advantage that some solar panel providers are just looking to empty out some of their warehouses. I’ve also used your articles countless times for reports and projects at university.
Thank you very much for your amusing and informative posts, I hope to see more of your work elsewhere on WSJ.
Indeed, the Journal’s Web site still has a strong environment news section online, and Johnson is still on the Journal’s staff, although what he’ll be covering next remains unclear. Hopefully, they’ll get that sorted out, because he is a valuable asset. His penultimate post, about the importance of pricing economic “externalities” in our energy system, is a case in point:
To take a single example: The price that American drivers pay at the pump, frightening as it is these days, does not reflect the cost of oil and gasoline. There are additional costs to the reliance on oil that simply don’t show up in the twirling numbers at the gas pump, whether they are the environmental costs of oil extraction, transport and combustion, or the cost of U.S. military engagement to protect oil supplies and keep vital sea lanes open…
New energy policies that seek to redress those problems, and unleash rather than further stifle a genuine market for energy, will point the way toward a new energy future that makes sense, both environmentally and economically. That’s because, if new policies set out to tackle those externalities once and for all, the environmental answer will quite often become the economic answer. Everything has its price—and its cost.
News outlets should be maintaining and fostering blogs that can provide these kinds of insights, not canceling them.
[Update: On disappointingly related note, CBS News’ science and technology correspondent, Daniel Sieberg, was laid off on Tuesday, according to TV Newser. He’d been with the network for three years.]Curtis Brainard writes on science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.