the observatory

Eilperin leaving the green beat

Washington Post reporter joins the paper's new "Digital Strike Force"

Juliet Eilperin, one of the country’s leading environment reporters, is switching beats at The Washington Post, moving to a newly created job as a White House reporter who will be part of a political “online strike force” leading the paper’s digital breaking news and analysis.

“I’ve loved covering the environment and the substantive issues it entails, so clearly giving up the beat as a full-time reporter is tough,” Eilperin said in an interview, noting that she will continue to cover these issues in terms of White House policy. Post editors asked her to join the new digital team and she accepted because “it is an intriguing opportunity to do political coverage of the White House, which is one Washington institution I’ve never covered, while also entering the digital fray and learning how new technology is altering the way we deliver news.”

Cameron Barr, the Post‘s national news editor, said in an email that the paper intends to fill the national environment reporter vacancy left by Eilperin (whether the job will be filled from within, and how soon, is still unclear), and he confirmed that Eilperin will continue to cover White House policy on climate change and other environmental issues.

“Not much is changing” with regard to the green beat, Barr wrote. Eilperin’s colleague on the national desk, Darryl Fears, will continue to cover the environment (focusing on the Chesapeake Bay and issues affecting wildlife around the country), as will Brad Plumer, who writes on energy and environment for the Wonkblog, and Steve Mufson, who writes about energy and finance from the business desk and often teamed with Eilperin on stories such as the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

During her eight years as the Post‘s national environment reporter, Eilperin was known for her prolific and knowledgeable coverage of controversial policy issues at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other departments and agencies, often breaking stories in the climate change arena involving the White House and Congress. She also traveled the globe, swimming with sharks, trekking through the Arctic and various national parks, as well as covering international climate conclaves like the 2009 UN conference in Copenhagen.

A memo sent to the Post‘s newsroom announcing the staff changes (a copy of which was obtained by CJR) said that Eilperin “will return to the world of politics to cover the White House. Juliet has had a terrific run on the environment beat, becoming one of the country’s leading reporters on climate change. She will continue to cover White House policy on climate from her new perch. Her high metabolism is legendary within The Post and her deep sourcing in the political world will be key to her new role.” Eilperin said she starts the White House job on March 11.

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Given her extensive on-the-job experience in combining environmental science and policy coverage, however, Eilperin’s departure will undoubtedly leave a hole in the Post‘s coverage, at least until the paper brings someone else up to speed. After word of her move to the White House leaked out today as part of a short Politico story about the “online strike force” and overall staff changes, some mediagazers began to worry that Eilperin’s move to the White House might signal a decline in environmental coverage, but she sought to allay those fears with a couple Twitter posts reassuring them the Post’s green beat would continue.

Eilperin joined the Post nearly 15 years ago, in March 1998, as its House of Representatives reporter, covering the impeachment of Bill Clinton and five national congressional campaigns before moving to the national environment beat in 2004. She also covered GOP nominee John McCain during the 2008 Presidential election race.

On the environment beat, Eilperin has focused on climate change, oceans, and air quality, among other issues, and wrote several investigative pieces about lax federal oversight of offshore drilling after the 2010 BP oil spill. In 2011 she won the Peter Benchley Ocean Award for Excellence in Media. She has published two books: “Fight Club Politics: How Partisanship is Poisoning the House of Representatives” in 2006, and “Demon Fish: Travels Through the World With Sharks” in 2012.

“I’ll miss shark diving for one thing,” said Eilperin, when asked about her time on the environment beat, “spending time with scientists, getting out in the field and seeing nature.”

Given the fast-paced life of a White House news reporter, she still hopes to be able to step back and write longer features for the Post “that could run online and in the paper that will pull back the veil on what’s happening at the White House.”

Indeed, with the pending decision by President Obama on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, as well as his pledge to focus more on climate change policy in his second term, Eilperin’s long environmental reporting stint will come in handy.

Eilperin spoke recently at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, in a talk on “Covering Environmental Controversies in an Overheated Political Environment” organized by one of the authors (Russell). A video of the talk is available here.

Curtis Brainard and Cristine Russell are CJR contributors. Brainard is the president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing and a senior fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. She is a former Shorenstein Center fellow and Washington Post reporter.