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The Disappearing Science Reporter

Although it has received some coverage, as all press job cuts do, the elimination of science and environmental reporters at major news organization has left most major news outlets without a dedicated science team. Scott Dodd, of OnEarth.org, reports that the number of science sections in major papers has declined over 75% since 1989, from 85 to 19. In some cases, for example the Boston Globe, those reporters were reassigned to business or other sections of the paper, remaining on a science-focused beat, but without the platform of a dedicated section.

The current downsizing has been an ongoing trend for a number of years. In 2008 CNN eliminated its dedicated environment desk, and in early 2013, The New York Times did the same. The Times’ decision to eliminate its “pod” of seven reporters and two editors dedicated to the environment provoked vocal objections from inside the industry, but went virtually uncovered elsewhere. Inside the Times, the Dot Earth blog has covered the issue for a number of years, but even Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan admitted that continuing the coverage without a dedicated team will be difficult. As of January 17, 2013, only the Los Angeles Times among the nation’s top papers had an environmental desk remaining, with four reporters assigned exclusively to environmental news.

University of Colorado Professor Maxwell Boykoff has researched the coverage of climate change at fifty major papers across the world from 2004-2013. Since a peak in late 2009 (which coincided with the UN Summit on Climate Change), environmental and climate change coverage has declined each year, with current coverage representing only a quarter of the stories that were published in 2009. While some of that shift is from the incorporation of environmental aspects into stories throughout newspapers, the people now reporting on the environment do not have the science or environmental planning background that reporters used to have. Even if the food section is covering ethical farming or sustainable fisheries, the reporter isn’t qualified to render an educated scientific explanation of the topic.

Sources:

Zofeen Ebrahim, “U.S. Science Reporters Becoming an Endangered Species,” Inter Press Service, October 15, 2013, http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/u-s-science-reporters-becoming-an-endangered-species/.

“Media Coverage of Climate Change/Global Warming,” Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, December 13, 2013, http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/media_coverage/world_normalized_graph.jpg.

Background Sources:

Andrew Revkin, “Science Journalism Implosion, CNN and Beyond,” The New York Times, December 4, 2008. http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/12/04/science-coverage-imploding-at-cnn-beyond/.

Christine Russell, “Globe Kills Health/Science Section, Keeps Staff,” Columbia Journalism Review, March 4, 2009, http://www.cjr.org/the_observatory/globe_kills_healthscience_sect.php.

Student Researcher: Howard Fooksman (Frostburg State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Duncan (Frostburg State University)

  • Gurra Aktersnurra December 27, 2013

    The science reporter isn’t dissapearing. They have moved to internet. I don’t check the newspaper for science news. The newspapers are usually very backwards and have only interests in politics, stars and sports.

    One very good example of science on Net is http://www.universetoday.com

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