In a note from New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet, managing editor Joe Kahn and deputy managing editor Matt Purdy highlighting the reasons Hannah Fairfield is the best choice to serve as the new climate editor, they refer to a bit of her unique experiential knowledge, writing, “She grew up in Alaska, where the effects of rising temperatures are real and measurable.” But there is also the fact of her not one, but “two master’s degrees from Columbia, one in journalism and the other in environmental science, with a thesis in geochemistry.”
And, as a topic that lends itself to punch-in-the-gut visualizations on what humans have wrought on this earth, Fairfield has that skill set as well after working for almost 15 years on the Times’ graphics team, including as visual editor for projects like the one capturing and explaining the significance of Greenland’s melting ice and the scientists who risk their lives to measure its scale and scope.
As editor, Fairfield will not only be responsible for making editorial decisions about what will be covered and how, but is also tasked with putting together a team to tackle coverage.
In recent years, the Times has tried out a few different approaches to climate coverage. In 2013, the publication decentralized its climate coverage by reassigning its 9-person environmental coverage team to other desks and axed its Green blog, which had been dedicated to climate and energy coverage. The decision was met with criticism, and subsequent reports showed the move led to a decrease in climate coverage at the Times.
The following year the Times reversed course, appointing Adam Bryant as environment editor and adding reporters to his team. In August, Bryant moved to a new role as editorial director for NYT Live, and the search for a climate editor was on.
According to Baquet, Kahn and Purdy, taking into account the current physical state of the world and the political state of the country, “the subject has taken on more urgency as the earth’s temperature continues to break records and a new political leadership in Washington appears poised to make sweeping changes to policies meant to limit carbon emissions.” Fairfield’s mandate is for ambitious, expansive and creative coverage.