How Compton Funds Storytelling on Climate Change

Mainstream media is struggling, and environmental coverage has struggled with it. The Compton Foundation is one funder trying to breathe some life into green news, as part of its Courageous Storytelling program.

While it seems like there's been something of an uptick in climate and energy coverage in the past year or so, the fact remains that in-depth reporting is severely hurting for funds, with the New York Times famously shutting down its environment desk last year. And mainstream media has been irritatingly slow to abandon its "two sides to every story" approach to climate change. 

A number of nonprofits and philanthropists are working to counter this problem, and one of them is the Compton Foundation, a Bay Area progressive funder that gives around $3.5 million a year. Compton is unusual in that it splits funding into its two programs not by issue, but by strategy. 

Related: Silo Busters: The Compton Foundation Is All About Movement Building

The two strategies, leadership and storytelling, are all about movement building. The first involves work like supporting collaboration among like-minded nonprofits and leadership training. The second is about using narratives and a variety of media to articulate the world we want to see and to challenge the status quo. Combined, they translate into grants for a combination of work in reproductive rights, peace, democracy and a big chunk for the environment. 

Some of the funding goes toward art projects, and a lot of it goes toward documentaries, including one book/movie project involving Naomi Klein. But they also support a couple of interesting news projects. 

The funder gave to the Climate Desk in 2014, a collaborative journalism project that involves Mother Jones, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, The Guardian, Grist, Slate, Wired, and the Center for Investigative Reporting. With the fiscal sponsor being nonprofit news outlet Mother Jones, Compton gave $40,000 to the effort to fill the gap in coverage of climate change. 

The funder also supports popular environment online news site Grist, which is known for its laid back, entertaining approach to environment news. Grist has helped to change the tone of environmental journalism, turning away from “sky is falling” hysteria and favoring conversation and humor. Compton made a $50,000 grant to the outlet. 

“We have tried to engage in places where we think some kind of media storytelling could really alter the social narrative of what’s happening,” said Program Director Jennifer Sokolove. Their media funding also fits with their strategy of trying to break out of the silos of narrow issue-based giving.

“It can help to break down some of those walls of difference between the folks who work on food, or climate or transportation or something completely different, like new economy or sharing economy,” she said.

Related: Compton Foundation: Grants for Climate Change