Just when the country is confronted with vexing environmental questions – whether to mine on conservation land, how to manage water assets in Canterbury, what should be done about the Japanese and their cravings for whale meat – the New Zealand Herald drops its dedicated environment page.
The Herald‘s timing is impeccable. Impeccably bad.
The rise of environment sections in mainstream daily newspapers has accompanied growing concern about climate change and specialised in news you can use – how to cut down on plastic bag consumption, or start a compost bin or the merits of switching to compact fluorescent lightbulbs. The Herald section did this rather well, but also ran a good deal of interesting wire copy from the likes of The Guardian and The Independent. Environment reporter Eloise Gibson was also able to use the “Green Page” published every Monday, to run mini-features, such as the four part series she authored on climate change. The section gave over a lot of space to columns written by the Environmental Defence Society‘s Gary Taylor. No offence to Gary or the EDS, but having advocates writing columns on environmental issues each week in the environment section was a mistake. What I was hoping would emerge was a confident staff writer at the Herald (maybe Eloise) who could take on environmental issues in columns in the same way John Armstrong does on political issues.
There’ll be precious little space for mini-features on environmental issues now as Eloise now has to pitch environment stories for inclusion in the general news pages. Meanwhile, the Dominion Post’s Saturday Green Zone page seems to be developing well under the guidance of environment reporter Kiran Chug.
In the Herald’s case, and I know this from personal experience, sections shrink and grow in direct correlation with advertising spend. I always feared the technology section I edited would get the chop, but with electronics retailers shelling out for full-page colour ads each week throughout the paper, showing a commitment to coverage of technology and consumer electronic was a wise move. I guess environmental coverage is a hard-sell to advertisers. However, The Guardian has shown that a dedication to environmental reporting can pay off, as this recording of a presentation given by Guardian deputy editor Ian Katz during the World Conference of Science journalists last year in London explains.
Environment blogs have popped up on the main news portals here – most recently in the form of the Nandor Tanczos blog on the TV3 website. The stable of what could be described as “greenie” blogs on the TV3 site and other news websites are better than nothing, but I think what people really want are impartial analytical columns about environmental issues – preferably written by journalists rather than advocates. I’m thinking here of Fred Pearce’s Greenwash blog on the Guardian website or Andrew Revkin’s Dot Earth blog which he revealed this week…
After 940 posts as a news blog… is moving to the Opinion side of The New York Times, where it will re-emerge in about a week. Don’t expect momentous changes. I’m not going to suddenly be revealed as an ardent liberal or conservative.
I am an advocate, for sure – for reality.