I’ve been a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists for a number of years, but every year when my renewal notice comes up I wrestle anew with the membership and the label it entails.*
I’m a journalist who covers topics that are sometimes labeled “environmental”, but I’m not sure how to define the subject area other than by listing the things that fit within it. With some notable exceptions, I don’t really care much about water pollution or air pollution, for example. I write a lot about climate change because water. I write some about forests because fires, towers of smoke billowing over my community, jarred me. I’m pretty diligent about covering one endangered species, but ignore most others. I know I’m supposed to care about this Keystone pipeline because people who care a lot about the “environment” have placed it on the agenda, but it’s not on mine. Roadless rules and wilderness just don’t interest me journalistically. I pretty much bought the Nordhuas and Shellenberger argument (pdf) because the category they were killing off wasn’t working for me.
So I’m sympathetic here to Dean Baquet at the New York Times as he explains the reasons for killing off the newspaper’s Green blog:
“I think our environmental coverage has suffered from the segregation — it needs to be more integrated into all of the different areas,” like science, politics and foreign news, he said.
He agreed that environmental coverage is of great importance, and said that having The Times’s environmental reporters working on other desks is the best way to “drive more of these important stories onto the home page and the front page.”
A Green blog is a place where environmenty people go to look for environmenty news. If we’re doing it right, that sort of news is embedded in all sorts of stories rather than a category of its own. So I agree with the rationale – both for killing the Green blog and for dismantling the Times’ green pod. I think coverage of the family of issues sometimes called the “environment beat” is best done integrated into a bunch of different beats, not off on its own.
But I called this a “half-hearted defense” because it only works if Baquet and company aren’t bullshitting us here, if they’re really planning to drive the topic(s) out into the newsroom as a whole.
* Every year I re-up because, as Lissa reminded me this morning, it’s a great organization, and I have a lot in common with the other members.