Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal kill enviro-news blogs – is there a need for them?

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Do you enjoy reading Dateline Earth? Is there a need for environmental news blogs? I hope the answer to both those questions is yes…. but if not I’d like to hear from you. Tell me: Is this a worthwhile enterprise? Because there are a lot of stories we’d like to get to out there – documents to read, people to call, data to analyze. All that takes time, and writing Dateline Earth costs me time.

Lest you think I’m fishing for compliments, I should point out that my inquiry is prompted by a post today on Columbia Journalism Review’s Observatory blog discussing how the Christian Science Monitor and The Wall Street Journal have discontinued their enviro-news blogs.

Both of these publications have storied histories and high journalistic standards.So CJR’s Curtis Brainerd checked in with editors at both sites, asking: whassup?

The answers are, it goes without saying, complex. The WSJ didn’t engage with Brainerd, which is a real shame, because a lot of us out here would like to know what they were thinking.

At the Monitor, sadly, the answer mostly seems to be that they just don’t have the horses any more.

A series of e-mails from Monitor Editor John Yemma to Brainerd offered that the environment is no longer a specialty – so true! Reporters on the city hall and business and feature beats, to name just a few, need to be familiar with what is sure to be the story of the century.

But Yemma also said that the Monitor’s Bright Green blog – the publication’s very first blog, instituted back when the copy had to go through the paper's cumbersome computer editing process for print stories – was discontinued in part because writer Eoin O’Carroll is busy doing something other than environmental journalism:

"He is one of our most valuable Web specialists and has played a key role, for instance, in the implementation of our new content management system. That was a high priority with us."

Now, I have no doubt the Monitor will continue to cover environmental news. But will readers still benefit from the insights and experience of an experienced environmental journalist? As a board member at the Society of Environmental Journalists, I can tell you that this kind of thing is going on at newsrooms around the country.

The WSJ also produces plenthy of worthwhile looks at environmental issues, albeit -- and understandably -- from the standpoint of a businessperson.

But sometimes there’s less there than meets the eye. Witness this week’s section “Eco:nomics – Creating Environmental Capital,” which recounts points of business and government leaders assembled by the Journal for a sit-down last week. It includes comments from the likes of Energy Secretary Stephen Chu, Royal Dutch Shell’s Peter Voser, and venture capitalist Vinod Khosla. Their verbatim words. At some length.

Nothing wrong with that. Members of our society want to hear what our leaders say. But recall that part of the purpose of journalism is to hold up a mirror to society – in other words, to ask probing questions of those people, as Journal folks did, and then to go on to analyze their answers and put them into context for readers.  Now, isn't that what we do in a blog? We also do it in news stories, of course, but blogs provide a somewhat different forum that allows the writer more room for analysis and context.

And yet, the WSJ gave the heave-ho to the well-regarded and diligently reported Environmental Capital blog, which we have cited here at Dateline Earth in the past.

It’s funny, because over at The New York Times, editors faced with funding cutbacks gave veteran environmental reporter Andy Revkin a buyout – but are continuing to publish posts on his excellent dot.earth blog. (Subhead: "Nine billion people. One planet.")

The loss of Revkin on the pages of the grey lady is a real shame. But I'm really glad that at least he is able to keep us up to date on climate change and other sustainability issues.

So, readers: Are enviro-news blogs worthwhile? Let me know if you think I should keep slaving over this keyboard every evening about this time… or devote my evenings to reading those (now-usually-virtual) stacks of documents.

 --Robert McClure

Comments

If environmental news is not a specialty, then I think it should be considered one of the main pillars of science writing. When journalists who don't understand science write about environmental issues--especially global climate change--they miss the mark. Too many articles have simply covered the controversies stirred up by political figures (who also don't understand the science) rather than helping citizens understand the science and how it can help us make good policy decisions. The lack of overwhelming public outrage about climate change and clear ideas for energy policy has a lot to do with how poorly climate change science has been covered in the media. We need fewer vapid articles about "going green" and more articles that include phrases like "parts per million". PS - here's my favorite example of good science writing, environmental and otherwise: http://www.nwst.org/
Thanks for writing about the Christian Science Monitor's Bright Green Blog. One clarification: Bright Green wasn't the Monitor's very first blog. There have been a few others before me; however, the last one had been discontinued about two years before I launched my blog in 2008, and that's why I wrote that the Monitor was a blog-free publication at the time.