Congratulations to Curtis Brainard of the Columbia Journalism Review for sticking around late on a Friday afternoon to get a scoop, if an unfortunate one--The New York Times, Brainard reports, has canceled its popular and important Green blog.
Politicians and government officials who want to hide bad news use the well known tactic of releasing it late Friday, so that it's likely to get nothing more than a small spot in the Saturday papers, which are generally the least read papers of the week. Sunday's paper is by that time mostly filled up with features that have already closed, and by Monday, the bad news is old news. It's considered an underhanded tactic.
It was distressing, therefore, to see The New York Times follow this model by releasing news of the Green blog's demise at 5pm Friday. That also happened to be the time when the Times's public editor, Margaret Sullivan, was just back from a week away and therefore likely to be unable to jump on this news. When the Times announced the closing of its environment desk in January, she wrote, "If coverage of the environment is not to suffer, a lot of people – including The Times’s highest ranking editors — are going to have to make sure that it doesn’t."
Apparently, they didn't. Managing editor Dean Baquet told her in January that "no decision has been made on the Green blog. If it has impact and audience, it will survive." The Times did not say that it was closing the blog because of lack of audience or impact, but merely so it could "direct production resources to other online projects," a bit of bureaucratese that Baquet should be ashamed of.
I can't speak to Green's audience, but the reaction to its closing certainly suggests it had impact.
The nearly 80 comments on the announcement--which most readers probably are just now learning about--are overwhelmingly disapproving.
Brainard did all he could to shout without resorting to capital letters. Baquet's insistence in January that the Times "remained as committed as ever to covering the environment" was, Brainard wrote, "an outright lie." When he called the Times for comment late Friday, he was "informed that executive editor Jill Abramson, managing editor Dean Baquet, and corporate spokeswoman Eileen Murphy were all out of the office for the day," he wrote.
The editors at the Times, he wrote, have
made a horrible decision that ensures the deterioration of the Times’s environmental coverage at a time when debates about climate change, energy, natural resources, and sustainability have never been more important to public welfare, and they’ve done so while keeping their staff in the dark. Readers deserve an explanation, but I can’t think of a single one that would justify this folly.
Andrew C. Revkin, who writes the Dot Earth blog for the Times, wrote that the closing of the Green blog was "probably inevitable once the environment desk was closed in January," but " inevitability doesn’t take away the sting." And he helpfully puts the move in context:
The news side of The Times has nine sports blogs; nine spanning fashion, lifestyles, health, dining and the like; four business blogs; four technology blogs (five if you include automobiles as a technology); and a potpourri of other great efforts...
I would like to have thought there was space for the environment in that mix.
The editors of the Times have perhaps forgotten that they work on an island, and that the entrance to their building is not too far above sea level--current sea level, that is. If nothing else persuades them that the environment is at least as important as sports and fashion, the waters pooling outside their doors might one day convince them--moments before the power goes out.