Monday, April 24, 2017

When the New York Times climate desk speaks, the world listens: Meet Hannah Fairfield, editor with a mission

Meet Hannah Fairfield, the new editor of the New York Times revamped Climate Desk. She started in her new position this year after a nationwide search for a chief editor of the section and she's on a roll now,backed by a strong team of veteran reporters and with bunch of new hires coming aboard in June, too, including Brad Plumer coming over from Vox, where they do capitalize the word "Earth."

Born and raised in a rural Alaskan village, Fort Yukon, population 600, mostly Gwich'in Athabascans whose ancestors have lived in Alaska for over 10,000 years,  Hannah spent the first 4 years of her life in the small village along the banks of the Yukon River and then moved with her missionary parents to the big city of Fairbanks to attend grades 1 to  12, finishing high school in 1992.

Her father was an Episcopalian missionary priest, first in Fort Yukon and then in Fairbanks, a university town where the University of Alaska-Fairbanks (UAF)  is located. In Fort Fukon, her parents lived in the Episcopalian mission church house and offered what services the church could, baptisms, weddings, burials and more. They were one of the few white families in the village and the children cherished their time there.

Think things like Fairbanks at 60 degrees below for three weeks in the winter of 1989! Think life in a subsistence village of rural Alaskans whose ancestors go back centuries! Think boat trips on the Yukon in the summer, fishing for salmon, and yes, eating salmon!

Hannah's parents went to Fort Yukon in the 1970s  to minister to the indigenous Indians there and attend to their religious and community needs.

Hannah left Alaska when she was 18 to attend college at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and graduated in1996. Then it was on to Ciolumbia University for two separate master's deegrees before landing her first job at the New York Times as a graphic designer, a position she held for 17 years until she was selected inhouse for the Climate Desk gig.

Although there was a nationwide search via a public online advertisement for a new editor of the revamped Climate Desk, with applications coming in from over 1500 candidates, the choice was always going to be an inhouse selection. And it was. Hannah interviewed for the job and she got it.

So what does Alaska mean to this very well-placed climate journalist, Hannah Fairfield? And how has her experience growing up in a Christian missionary family in rural Alaska shaped her views  on nature, God and global warming?

Although a happy and dedicated New Yorker now, and loving it, they say back in Alaska that once you live there you can never really let the place go in your heart and mind and soul -- and in your view of the way the world works. Ask any Alaskan, past or present. It's that kind of place. The Last Frontier.

I know this feeling because I lived in Alaska for 12 years in the 1970s and 1980s -- mostly in Juneau but with two long winters in Nome -- and although I left the state in 1991 to live in Asia, I still keep Alaska close in mind and worldview and my experiences there in fact led me to find a home later on the global community of a artists, writers, dreamers and climate activists.

So with Hannah's  deep rural Alaska credentials, I am looking forward to a long and successful 10-year reign  at chief climate reporter for the New York Times.

PS -- Another thing I am looking forward to is the Climate Desk's new policy of capitalizing the word "Earth" in stories about climate change and global warming, since there is no reason on Earth to keep lowercasing it the newspaper does now. Things change the Times, with time, and while the newspaper once capitalized the word Internet, it now lowercases it, following the Associated Press's lead. So I am looking forward to the Climate Desk under Hannah Fairfield's direction lobbying the newspapers Style and Standards editors to start capitalizing the word Earth. For time being, the paper still writes "earth" in lowercase letters even in stories about acivists working to protect the Earth from runaway global warming, and about indigenous peoples worldwide living with the conseqences of climate change in the Arctic, in the Amazon and in Africa and Asia -- Australia, too.

It's not "earth Day" in April every year. It's "Earth Day, with a capital E. It's time for the New York Times to adjust their editorial style and start showing more respect for the Earth, our home planet.

This is how Dean Baquet punctuates the word EARTH in his memo to NYT staffers:

With Hannah’s appointment, we aim to build on what has already been dominant coverage of climate change and to establish The Times as a guide to readers on this most important issue. 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.
-- Dean, Joe and Matt”

Wouldn't it look better to readers, Dean, if you had written....?

....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.


After previously holding a senior graphics editor position, Hannah Fairfield will now serve as climate editor for The New York Times. In this role, she will overseeing climate change coverage, which crosses a variety of topical desks and global bureaus. Fairfield rejoined the NYT in 2012 as senior graphics editor after a stint as graphics editor for The Washington Post from 2010 to 2012. She served as graphics editor at The New York Times from 2000 through 2010. Follow The New York Times on Twitter.  

1 comment:


There's a good story here. Someone should write it.