Two Big Climate Stories You Didn't Read About In The New York Times
Times Skips Stories Soon After Closing Environmental Desk And Green BlogAugust 7, 2013 1:31 PM EDT ››› MAX GREENBERG
The New York Times failed to cover both a major government report and a scientists' statement indicating that global warming marches on, just months after the paper shuttered both its environment desk and an affiliated blog with the promise that coverage would not significantly change.
On Monday, the American Geophysical Union (AGU), a scientific organization comprising thousands of earth scientists, published a quadrennial renewal of its position statement affirming that "humanity is the major influence on the global climate change observed over the past 50 years." One day later, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released the annual "State of the Climate" report, showing that 2012 was among the 10 warmest years on record worldwide and saw record-low Arctic sea ice extent. NOAA included these charts, illustrating warming of 0.16°C (0.28°F) per decade since 1970 and plummeting Arctic sea ice extent compared to the 1979-2000 average, respectively:
The AGU statement garnered mentions by National Public Radio and NBCNews.com, and NOAA's "sobering portrait of vast swaths of the planet transformed by rising temperatures" was covered by the Associated Press, Reuters, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal and CBS, and featured in wire reports in The Washington Post and on the websites of Fox News, NBC and ABC.
However, you didn't read about either story in The New York Times.
Past surveys have found that the Times has published more stories on climate change than other large U.S. daily papers. But a failure to report on major developments like these calls into doubt the extent to which the paper can be trusted to maintain strong attention to environmental issues in the face of recent organizational changes.
In January 2013, The New York Times closed its environment desk, calling it a "structural" move and telling Inside Climate News it "expect[s] to cover the subject just as aggressively going forward." Many -- including the Times' own ombudsman, Margaret Sullivan -- expressed concern that coverage would suffer. In March, the other shoe dropped, as the Green blog, an able complement to the Times' long-form environment coverage that often covered stories neglected in print, was discontinued. This time Sullivan was less equivocal, writing that she was "not convinced that The Times's environmental coverage will be as strong without the team and the blog. Something real has been lost on a topic of huge and growing importance." The Times continued to host blogs dedicated to horse-racing, its crossword puzzle, and "eavesdrop[ping] on The New York Times Magazine."
Outlets across the U.S. have reduced their coverage of climate change in recent years. With the newspaper of record apparently not immune to that trend, it is only becoming more difficult for audiences to stay well-informed.
UPDATE (8/12/13): A representative of The New York Times' communications team told the Columbia Journalism Review that overlooking NOAA's report was not an indication of reduced environmental coverage:
"I think it would be a stretch to assume that if we didn't cover this one report from one organization that would be some indication of our cutting environmental coverage."
The Columbia Journalism Review noted parenthetically that Andrew Revkin and Justin Gillis, an environment blogger and reporter for the Times, respectively, "are out of town this week," but said it was "surprisin[g]" that several news outlets provided such "limited analysis" on NOAA's "importan[t]" report.