The United States’ oldest city, St. Augustine, Florida, founded in 1565, might not reach its 500th birthday. It is already starting to drown due to rising sea levels caused by global warming. Its streets are now flooded ten times a year. Meanwhile, across the continent, snowpack is disappearing from the Sierra Nevadas, driving a catastrophic drought in California. Yet as we recently noted, less than 2 percent of philanthropic money goes to fight climate change.
One area where new funding has been flowing in recent years, though, is to media efforts to raise the alarm about climate change and showcase solutions. For example, we wrote not long ago about how Google exec Eric Schmidt and his wife Wendy have focused significant resources on environmental journalism, and also about a big give for green reporting by the billionaire Hans Wyss.
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Well, here's another data point to add to the mix: the Ford Foundation's recent $400,000 grant to the Pulitzer Prize-winning online publication InsideClimate News.
Needless to say, we're prone to think the best about any digital media site with "Inside" in its name. But this one has journalism's top award to prove it's a big deal. Ford's grant is for “general support to produce reports focusing on environmental issues of public relevance.” The grant will last for 18 months through the end of October 2016.
InsideClimate News is one of many nonprofit media operations that have sprung up in recent years in response to the decline of traditional print journalism. The site was founded by publisher David Sassoon in 2007. He and co-founder/executive editor Stacy Feldman were a staff of two that has now expanded to ten, plus additional freelance journalists. It’s supported in full by grants from foundations and individuals. Only the editors decide on site content, covering clean energy, fossil fuels, nuclear energy and environmental science. The site is particularly good at examining the intersection between law, public policy and opinion. It says: “Our mission is to produce clear, objective stories that give the public and decision makers the information they need to navigate the heat and emotion of climate and energy debates.”
You can see why funders would be keen on that mission, given how climate debates are frequently muddied by disinformation, and how this issue has always struggled to command enough media attention to become a top-tier public concern.
Ford has been behind InsideClimate News for a while. In 2013, it donated $150,000 to support reporting positions at InsideClimate News. Other funders include the Common Sense Fund, Energy Foundation, Educational Foundation of America, Grantham Foundation, Knight Foundation, Marisla Foundation, Park Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
In 2013, InsideClimate News reporters Elizabeth McGowan, Lisa Song and David Hasemyer won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting for "The Dilbit Disaster: Inside the Biggest Oil Spill You've Never Heard Of," a seven-month investigative project that looked into the million-gallon spill of Canadian tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River in 2010. It’s a story of increasing relevance today amid the debate over the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline.
One question about InsideClimate News: What's its plan for sustainability beyond pulling in foundation grants? As we wrote recently, reporting on a study by the Knight Foundation, maturing nonprofit news outfits tend to have difficulty bringing in grants over time, and face growing pressures to find other sources of revenue. We trust that InsideClimate News is thinking hard about this challenge, looking at different revenue options such as advertising, premium subscriptions, events, and more.
The climate crisis isn't going away. But ongoing funder interest in environmental journalism is hardly a sure thing.