A half-hearted defense of the New York Times decision to kill the green blog

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.


  1. Integrating environmental angles into a range of subjects seems savvy, but loosing the anchor for a coherent editorial voice appears to undermine that aim from the start.

  2. I’m very sympathetic to John’s argument here, keeping environmental (or science) writing in a walled garden turns the coverage inward in a way that doesn’t help the public a lot of the time. Beyond that – my goodness, how can so many clever people not understand news economics in complaining about this decision? It turns out that good reporting costs money. So coverage migrates to the topics that garner the most advertising dollars, in this case the overall national news that this nyt blog’s folks will now be aimed towards.

    If Coca-Cola had sponsored the Green Blog (or the many other just as good or better), it would still be up and running. They and the rest of our advertising-purchasing business class choose (and it is a choice, one that seems more driven by sociology than data)to put their money elsewhere, believing those ad buys will bring them the most profit for their ad purchase. If the environmental movement wants a green blog at their local metro, they should walk in the door with a check for several million dollars – really – to sponsor the thing and pad the paper’s profits. Before you can say the words “this is a business”, you will suddenly have a green section in your paper.

  3. Don’t buy Baquet’s argument, because the Green Blog has always been separate from the print edition. Yes, they blogged about print stories in the blog, but they had a lot of posts (one I recall vividly, because it put me on to an ocean story here in SoCal) that never made it into print.

    Which should be okay! Further, and this hasn’t been much discussed, the Green Blog had a certain amount of money for free-lancers. Small change for the NY Times, but a huge deal for some of us. Potentially.

    Sad to see the NY Times pull up the drawbridge.

  4. Pingback: New York Times green shift: the verdict | jfleck at inkstain

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