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Death of environmental news?

David Beach  |  09/12/06 @ 11:28am

In the coming months, we may be hearing a lot less about the quality of air, water, and the ecosystems that sustain our lives in Northern Ohio. That's because financial pressures and staff changes are turning local environmental beat reporters into a threatened species.

The job of the respected dean of local environmental reporters, Bob Downing of the Akron Beacon Journal, has been up in the air as a result of the recent sale of that paper (update: as of September 12, he seems to be hanging on with his environment beat). There are rumors that the Toledo Blade may also cut coverage. And Karen Schaefer, who had carved out a specialty covering environmental issues for the Cleveland public radio station 90.3 WCPN ideastream, was recently assigned to cover mostly health issues. The station remains committed to covering the environment, says ideastream chief operating officer Kit Jensen, but it will do so through a variety of perspectives (such as economics or health) and not just through a lens labeled "environment."

All this may leave the Plain Dealer's John Kuehner as the surviving, full-time environmental beat reporter in the region. So far, he's not worried about being "zeroed out." But in recent months he has been filling in for other positions at the paper, leaving less time for eco-stories.

Such cuts are tragic. It's tough to cover complex environmental issues, but we need sophisticated coverage more than ever to help society cope with the big challenges of the 21st century, which increasingly are environmental challenges such as global climate change.

Want to help increase the quantity and quality of environmental news? In the short term, you can advocate for expanded environmental beats at the media outlets mentioned above. For instance, you can use the WCPN website's "Talk Back" page for submitting comments, or you can try to get involved in the station's annual "Listening Project" to speak up for environmental coverage.

In the long term, the best thing to do is communicate often with reporters and editors. Tell them what you care about. Tell them about the stories they should cover. Tell them about the stories they missed. Most importantly, praise them when they do a good job. I often hear reporters complain that they worked hard on an important story only to get no reaction from readers. Then their editors believe that no one cares about the subject. A handful of emails can make all the difference.

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