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A Tiny Non-Profit Newsroom Making an Outsized Impact

By David Sassoon


For those who wonder how this article is about interfaith, it should be noted that the climate change movement is implicitly (and often explicitly) interfaith, through and through. Ed.

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Our story is the quintessential media story of our time. We are a tiny non-profit trying to cover the biggest story in history. Why? Because traditional media, facing economic hardship, have fallen away from covering climate change and energy just when our society needs it most.

InsideClimate News was started on a shoestring as a blog in 2007. Our aim was to elevate the public discourse on a terribly misunderstood and poorly reported subject and hold leaders in government, industry, and activism accountable for solutions. We began by reporting on the emerging business case for climate action. This wasn’t controversial at the time. Major corporations were engaged with both political parties to meet the challenge of global warming with comprehensive federal legislation. Every president beginning with George H.W. Bush vowed to lead the world to solve the problem.

InsideClimate covers news otherwise ignored, like this action last month in Massachusetts about fossilfuel divestment. – Photo: InsideClimate News, Zahra Hirji

InsideClimate covers news otherwise ignored, like this action last month in Massachusetts about fossilfuel divestment. – Photo: InsideClimate News, Zahra Hirji

The momentum crashed and burned. In Copenhagen in 2009, a global climate pact crumbled, and in Washington in 2010, a long-awaited federal climate law failed. The free market recoiled from accountability for the consequences of carbon pollution. This dovetailed with another threat to the fundamental health of our democracy. The media industry began to buckle under pressure to survive in the Internet age, with widespread shutdowns and massive layoffs. Fewer environmental and science reporters were left to tackle the issue of the rapidly changing climate and its widespread implications.

ICN jumped into this yawning gap in the media landscape, a tiny player seeking a big impact. Then, in 2013 we won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting. It was a groundbreaking moment, transformative — like being struck by lightning. The recognition helped propel our start-up into a thriving news operation of 14 people. We are striving to keep pace with these developments. In 2014, we detached from our fiscal sponsor that had incubated us, and we became our own non-profit with our own board of directors. An ambitious strategic plan has us off to a roaring start in 2015.

We are redesigning our website and investing in audience development to improve the reach of our work. Our journalism continues to think big. Watch for our coverage of the road to the UN climate talks in Paris in December; the evolving regulatory agenda on carbon emissions; ongoing fights over fracking, pipelines, oil trains, and coal terminals; climate science and extreme weather; the growth of the clean energy economy; the carbon budget and fossilfuel divestment. Also look for installments of an ongoing project on climate accountability.

ICN has come a long way from our modest beginnings, but challenges remain in supporting and expanding our work. Philanthropy, able to prioritize social over monetary returns on investment, has almost singlehandedly funded us, but we are working to diversify our sources of revenue. We hope to match every philanthropic dollar with one from another source so we can double in size and come to full scale. We are building sustainably, to serve the public interest for decades to come. The need for our work has never been greater and we’re just getting started.

This article is republished from InsideClimate News’ annual report.