Some of you commented on the recent news about CNN’s firing of its environmental and science staff. Not surprisingly, journalists are condemning CNN’s move as short-sighted. Here’s the text of a recent letter from four major science and environmental journalism groups to CNN leadership, courtesy of the Society of Environmental Journalists’ “Watchdog” e-mail alert. The signatories represent an unusual alliance, as well as thousands of journalists.
December 19, 2008
Jim Walton, President
One CNN Center, 6 South Tower
Atlanta, GA 30303
Jon Klein, President
One Time Warner Center
New York, NY 10019
Dear Mr. Walton and Mr. Klein,
We are writing on behalf of several national and international science journalism organizations to express our strong concern about CNN’s shortsighted decision to cut its science, technology and environment unit in one fell swoop. In wielding this ax, your network has lost an experienced and highly regarded group of science journalists at a time when science coverage could not be more important in our national and international discourse.
The environment, energy technology, space exploration, and biotechnology are crucial ongoing stories that will have growing prominence as a new American president takes office and nations confront a wide range of science-based global issues. As the impacts of climate change intensify, shows like “Planet in Peril” cannot make up for informed daily coverage of this important issue and other science topics in the public eye. As with political and policy reporting, it is important that the underlying science be covered by journalists with the skills and knowledge to sort out competing claims.
Concerned as we are about the dismissal of our colleagues, including the award-winning science reporter Miles O’Brien in New York; Peter Dykstra, head of CNN’s science unit in Atlanta; and five other science producers there; this letter is not about individual journalists.
Rather, the wholesale dismantling of the science unit calls into question CNN’s commitment to bringing the most informative science news to the general public, including the science-minded younger audience. If CNN wants to be truly international, it will be at odds with the trend toward increased science coverage in many parts of the world.
It is difficult for us to imagine why CNN, which has earned a justifiably strong reputation for its science journalism in the past, has opted to widen the gap in science coverage rather than strive to fill it. We would hope that you would reconsider your decision and reassemble a cadre of well-trained science journalists that would enable you to expand unfolding science news and in-depth coverage, not shrink it.
Your action is an unfortunate symbol of recent widespread cutbacks in specialty science journalism. Our groups will continue to push for more science coverage by the major media and to do our part to promote the highest possible professional standards for communicating complex science-based issues across the spectrum. We plan to publicize this letter as widely as possible to encourage further discussion of the future of science journalism. Thanks for your attention.
Cristine Russell, President, Council for the Advancement of Science Writing (CASW)
Mariette DiChristina, President, National Association of Science Writers (NASW)
Christy George, President, Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ)
Pallab Ghosh, President, World Federation of Science Journalists(WFSJ)