CNN downsizes science team

Okay, we’d like to think that you find Science News riveting, comprehensive, one-stop shopping for all of your science-reporting needs. In fact, we know that you — like the reporters and editors here — check out research coverage provided by a number of news outlets. It’s a good bet that at least part of that extracurricular intake of environmental news came to your courtesy of CNN.

The network has done some great science-based reporting over the years. So it was with some sadness that we learned today that the Atlanta-based network decided to release reporter Miles O’Brien — a nearly 17-year veteran — and six producers over the next few weeks. Together they represented what was known as CNN’s science-tech-environment team. An insider told me this move, which eliminates seven job slots, was not a budgetary measure but rather a “strategic business decision.”  

According to a prepared statement issued by the network, “We want to integrate environmental, science and technology reporting into the general editorial structure rather than have a stand alone unit.  Now that the bulk of our environmental coverage is being offered through the Planet in Peril franchise . . . there is no need for a separate unit.”

O’Brien was the network’s environmental correspondent. In a statement, he described that for a television reporter, his long-tenure has been “more than just a good run — it is an epoch.” Of what lies ahead, he said: “I see a lot of exciting opportunities — and I look forward to exploring what is on the horizon — which, after all, has been my mission at CNN all these years.” Gracious words from someone just handed his walking papers. Rather classy.

The good news: Today’s announcement does not eliminate R&D coverage at the network, it just shrinks substantially CNN’s corps of seasoned practitioners. Medical coverage will be unaffected. Veteran correspondents John Zarella and Sean Callebs will continue to report on NASA.

But at a time when climate change and other environmental issues are increasingly timely and politically pivotal, it’s hard to see the benefit of releasing a very talented pool of journalists. If anything — and particularly if money is not the issue — I would have expected a major 24-hour news network to consider boosting its staff of environmental reporters and producers. Instead, it just adds to the vast ranks of reporters already combing the streets for work because of the recent trend by U.S. newspapers to downsize.

Janet Raloff

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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