Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Meet Hannah Fairfield, climate editor with a mission

Meet Hannah Fairfield, Alaskan climate editor with a mission

by staff writer, with agencies

As climate change continues to be debated nationwide pro and con by activists and Trumpists, a new global warming maven is in the spotlight.

Meet Hannah Fairfield, the current editor of the New York Times revamped Climate Desk at the newspaper's Manhattan newsroom. 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.

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,  
spent the first
 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
​elementary school and middle school
​graduating from
high school in 1992.

Her father was an Episcopalian missionary priest and a small plane pilot, first in Fort Yukon and then in Fairbanks, a university town where the University of Alaska-Fairbanks  is located. In Fort Yukon, her parents lived in the Episcopalian mission church
​log ​
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
​tend Hobart and William Smith Colleges and ​
graduated in1996. Then it was on to Columbia University for two separate master's degrees 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, I still keep Alaska close in mind and worldview and my experiences there in fact led me to find a home later on
​in ​
the global community of writers, activists
​ and academics studying the issues of man-made global warming. Alaska gave birth to ''cli-fi.''

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

Another thing I am looking forward to is the Climate Desk's
​possible ​
new policy of capitalizing the word "Earth" in
​news ​
stories about climate change and global warming, since there is no reason on Earth to keep lowercasing it
the newspaper
​ of record​
does now. Things change
​at 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 to start capitalizing the word Earth. For time being, the paper still writes "earth" in lowercase letters even in stories about ac
ivists working to protect the Earth from runaway global warming, and about indigenous peoples worldwide living with the consequences 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.

1 comment:


Two main questions came in from dozens of readers here.

1. How did this blogger know the choice for the new climate desk chief was going to be an inhouse candidate, i.e., someone already working at the Times and a loyal, dedicated, trusted Timesperson?

Answer: I heard this from the very beginning of the application process, from a Timesperson in the nytimes building. He she they told me the pick would be an inhouse pick. I asked how he she they knew this. He she they said "trust me, I know."

2. Others wanted to know why the selection committee chose a person with no experience or background as a science reporter or climate science background or even much gumshoe detective street reporting experience as a beat reporter, since the new editor's main professional experience was 17 years as an art director and page designer.

Answer. I said I didn't know the answer to that question. Does anyone else know? I have no idea why. Maybe a background in science reporting or in climate science was important to the selection committee. It is a good question, though. I have no ready answer.