WSJ Launches New Environment Blog

Is this Murdoch’s influence?

The Wall Street Journal launched a new environment blog yesterday, called Environmental Capital. It stirred some immediate debate over at The New York Times’ Dot Earth blog, where Andrew Revkin asked if it was a “sign of Murdoch’s green bent?”

Revkin puts the question specifically to David Sassoon, who runs the blog Solve Climate. Sassoon is a good choice; earlier this month, he told me in an e-mail that he had “unilaterally made WSJ Climate Watch a part of my job description.” Sassoon responded to Revkin early yesterday morning in the comments section of Dot Earth:

The news side of the paper has never been a problem - it’s the editorial page. It’s been as if they don’t read the news in their own paper. And the editorial staff make no effort to provide balance - they don’t even try to fake it …

I still think it’s imperative that we keep the spotlight on the WSJ. The influence it has in the business world makes it accountable for a public trust that so far, on the issue of climate change, it has betrayed.

This is a good assessment. There is clearly an ideological difference when it comes to climate change between Keith Johnson and Jeffrey Ball, Environmental Capital’s lead writer and editor, respectively, and the likes of Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., who sits on the paper’s editorial board. But one must also remember that Environmental Capital isn’t entirely new. It is a reconstituted version of the Journal’s Energy Roundup blog, which Johnson and Ball worked on and which began in February 2007. According to Dow Jones’ vice president for communications, Robert Christie, the shift to the new blog has nothing to do with Murdoch’s “green bent.”

“The Environmental Capital blog was planned long before the News Corp. acquisition,” Christie said. “Like all the news content published by the Journal, the content on the blog is decided by the managing editor and this staff.”

I wrote about Murdoch’s “green conversion” in the fall of 2006 when he announced that, his prior misgivings notwithstanding, he favors an international treaty to thwart global warming. Despite the growing support for environmental issues at the time, both inside the press and out, media pundits argued that if Murdoch pushed his papers to “go green,” it would amount to editorial tampering-an inexcusable act, in most journalists’ minds, even when done for the best of reasons. It was a topic of greater concern in the U.K. and Australia, where most of Murdoch’s newspapers are located. In the same week last fall, both The Times of London and its owner, referring to international emissions regulations, used the phrase, “The planet deserves the benefit of the doubt.” Down in Melbourne, The Age, which is not owned by News Corp, wrote that there appeared to have been “at least some shift in how climate change is being covered in Murdoch-owned publications, but it is not uniform.”

At the same time, at the News Corp.-owned Herald-Sun, also in Melbourne, columnist Andrew Bolt defended his right to remain skeptical in the face of his boss’s newfound climate concern, writing, “Now, critics who once scoffed that I merely wrote on Murdoch’s alleged orders are demanding to know why this time I have not.” In the fourteen months that have elapsed since then, Bolt has not seen “the slightest evidence” of a green hand guiding editorial affairs. As he put it in an e-mail yesterday:

Maybe one or two papers have published more warming alarmism, although whether that’s because of Rupert Murdoch’s speeches or because of the temptation every paper has to chase a popular fad is impossible to say. I actually suspect the latter, especially given the natural tendency of journalists to be of the Left, and the hankering every good editor has to increase sales and seem “relevant.”

So while political news junkies in the U.S. discuss the two Americas during the presidential campaign, aficionados of energy and climate news will continue to talk about the two Wall Street Journals: Johnson, Ball, and the new Environmental Capital blog on one side, the intransigent editorial board on the other.

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