A faint ray of light in the dark tunnel of constricting news room staffs and shrinking news budgets: The beleaguered San Diego Union-Tribune prompted some passing smiles among environmental beat reporters this holiday season with the relatively joyful news that it wants to spare its reporters covering environment from the staff reductions. In the works are cuts of 43 employees in its 360-person newsroom.

Hoping to avoid “involuntary” staffing actions – like layoffs and dismissals – the paper now is aiming for a cut of 12 percent among its reporters, editors, and photographers …. Another 40 or so positions from other departments of the Union-Tribune are also on the chopping block.

Not eligible for the current buyout, the newspaper said, are environment and politics reporters (elections coming), breaking news reporters, computer-assisted reporting specialists, sports columnists, copy editors, and the paper’s editorial cartoonist. But the paper reportedly said in a memo to its employees that the proposed staffing rollbacks amount to the “minimum” needed for now. (The paper in 2006 had let go of 19 of its most senior newsroom employees.)

In describing the positions not now eligible for the buyouts, the alternative voiceofsandiego.org quoted a local journalism professor as saying, “you can see what they’re saying they still value. And they’re obviously saying we can no longer be covering all things about this town.” Environment, for now, is a keeper.

And from the Network Side …

Another ray of hope. But just kind of.

CBS News, following the lead of ABC and NBC, now says it is “expanding its coverage of the environment.”

But should experienced and knowledgeable environmental news veterans get their resumes polished? Not so fast.

“Knowledge of the enviro beat is a big plus, but not a requirement,” the network said in posting the job announcement at their website. Of higher interest for the internet video broadcast are the following qualities:

  • “smart, creative, hard working up and comers” (read young and inexperienced, perhaps just out of school even, and of modest salary expectations?);
  • “great energy, creativity and a dash of humor” (there is, after all, so much that is simply hilarious in reporting the near-end of civilization, polar bears, drought, famine, starvation, and other key elements of the beat);
  • “wicked, smart, funny, irreverent and hip, oozing enthusiasm and creative energy” (notice a trend here with the repetition of creative?);
  • “position requires strong people, reporting, story telling and writing skills” (Now we’re getting somewhere.); and
  • “managing tight deadlines should be second nature” (Does that mean not much time to truly understand anything too complex?).

Along with the optional knowledge of the beat, CBS advertised, keep in mind that the position is labeled as “freelance.” Translation: No benefits? The lucky individual will report and host two to three news packages weekly “plus daily writing for our blog.”

Being at ease with a video camera and knowing your way around the Internet are important commodities. And “be prepared to see America. Heavy domestic travel” on tap.

Sounds like Walter Cronkite need not apply for that one. And neither a number of respected and veteran environmental reporters who were busy decoding and de-fanging the human “resourcese” language.

On the other hand, the announcement did provide some labor hours for Senator Jim Inhofe’s (R-OK) staff blogger, Marc Morano.

The prolific climate skeptic seized on the job announcement wording to decry that “the low bar set by CBS News for their reporting may have reached new depths.”

“It is refreshing to hear an established news outlet finally admit publicly that being ‘hip’ or ‘funny’ is a greater asset than ‘knowledge’ when it comes to environmental reporting,” wrote Morano, hitting the softball for at least a ground-rule double. Morano used the CBS verbiage to blast “the current trend in the media to downplay actual science in environmental reporting in favor of repeating a fluffy regurgitation of talking points from environmental special interest groups.” He’d be a lot happier seeing the media parrot the Senatorís and his own talking points.