Every publisher is a climate publisher now
6 min read

Every publisher is a climate publisher now

Why and how news organizations can be part of the environmental solution.
Every publisher is a climate publisher now

A song to read by: "Across the Universe," by Fiona Apple

What I’m reading: "Real Life," by Brandon Taylor


Rise of the eco-journalist

If you are anything like me, conversations about the weather have dominated nearly all of your discussion since emerging from quarantine. To a degree, this stems from our collective transition from bedroom-dwellers to street-gatherers again, so an uptick in remarking on the weather seems appropriate.

However, the primary reason for the increased devotion our conversations pay to the weather is its growing erraticism. Whether you live on the West Coast, in the Midwest, the South or the Northeast, chances are you are experiencing some abnormal climate phenomena. Chances are you experienced a similar phenomena last year, and you will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

As the macabre joke goes, one day you will look back on the climate of today and remember it as the best weather you ever experienced. Because without significant intervention, things are just going to get worse every year for the rest of your life.

As an industry, the media appears to be reaching a turning point in how we cover and discuss the climate.

Charlie Warzel just wrote a piece titled, “Congrats, You’re a Climate Reporter Now,” which captures this new ethos pretty well. Over at Bloomberg, climate reporter Akshat Rathi penned another article that conveys a similar idea, called “How to Talk About Climate Change as Catastrophes Pile Up.” And I would be remiss if I failed to mention the wonderful Emily Atkin, who recently wrote about her first on-air experience discussing climate change reporting on CNN.

For Adweek, I have covered the rise of publishers’ sincere attempts to better cover climate change. To my mind, for the casual reader, there is no better resource than Grist. Other publishers have launched helpful verticals dedicated to the subject, with my favorite being Bloomberg Green (though more on that later).

However, as has often been said, we can make individual changes to our lives to combat and reverse climate change, but we also need corporate sign-on. The vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions come from major businesses. And while newsrooms are not crude oil refineries, they have an important role to play in undoing climate change.

It is the responsibility of all newsrooms, not just climate change-oriented ones, to inform the public about the degrading state of the environment, who is responsible for its degradation and how that damage can be undone.

In addition, as employees of employers ourselves, journalists should also hold the publishers we work for to account. Publishers are businesses, meaning they are making decisions that have important carbon footprint implications, and workers need to make sure their employers keep the planet first in mind when weighing the importance of that extra flight, fleet of disposable coffee machines or suspiciously inexpensive merchandise coming from China.

The below list is inexhaustive, because I have only just begun thinking about how publishers, as businesses, can help combat climate change, but it is important that our employers walk the walk. If we are going to be holding other corporations accountable for their carbon footprints, we need to set an example with how we manage ours.

Practices publishers could adopt to combat climate change:

Incorporate climate context into relevant reporting

In Warzel’s interview with climate reporter Zahra Hirji, the BuzzFeed News reporter explains some of the easy-to-use practices she and her team have begun implementing to add climate context in relevant stories.

Many of her suggestions — a ready-made paragraph that can be updated with relevant climate information and used as a boilerplate — could take root in any newsroom. Every story has a climate angle, and most are easy to see.

As a business reporter, I think a lot about: This new merchandise being sold, where is it sourced? Has the rise of at-home delivery increased the carbon footprint of retail items? Did those executives really need to get on an airplane in order to shake hands for a photo opportunity?

We are gradually moving toward a carbon tax, where the ecological cost of producing a product must be offset by the company that produced it. For every extractive action, an equally restorative one must follow. Companies need to account and compensate for their carbon footprints, whether in terms of the buildings they cool, the plane tickets they buy, the merchandise they sell or otherwise.

Reporting of all stripes, whether business, retail, fashion, entertainment, politics — it all has a climate angle. Find it, and start including it.

Reduce consumption of all unnecessary or disposable materials

This one always seems small, but to me the importance is in the mindset shift it sparks. Newsrooms need to do away with disposable coffee cups, plates, cutlery, knickknacks and anything else that gets used once and is thrown into a dump forever.

They need to order catering from companies that use minimal packaging and order locally as often as possible. Stop giving away useless trinkets that will only be thrown away at the end of the day, and consider sponsoring local clean-up efforts during paid working hours.

These changes require a bit of effort to make, but once they are in place they are easy to maintain and act as a safeguard against backsliding. Set up compost stations, outlaw disposable water bottles, incentivize commuting with paid perks: These things will spark a mindset shift in workers that opens their eyes to all the other ways they could reduce their unnecessary consumption.

In a way, it works like professional training. By making you and your coworkers more aware of their personal carbon footprints, you make them more aware of the waste going on around them, which will make it easier to report on.

To this end, consider starting an internal group responsible for implementing these kinds of changes. If you do so, and meaningfully shrink the carbon footprint of your newsroom, email me at Adweek and I will write about you! Positive steps in the world of ecological mindfulness should be lauded just as much as, if not more, than most of the internal developments that occur in newsrooms.

New projects should be made carbon neutral, and old ones upgraded

This is certainly beyond my scope of expertise, but I think I can say with confidence: new buildings, projects or otherwise resource-consuming ventures should be designed as sustainably as possible.

Remember that the first “R” of the four “R”’s (reduce, reuse, recycle, recover) is reduce. Reduce consumption at all times and whenever possible. Apply those criteria to every project — do we need to drive there, buy that, throw that away? And if so, how can we offset those carbon emissions?

When it comes to buildings, if possible old ones should be retro-fitted to be as energy efficient as possible. Biking, walking and public transit should be encouraged, and bottled, packaged and otherwise refuse-creating products should be discouraged or phased out. Make where you work a role model of the sustainability you hope to encourage through your reporting.

Establish climate criteria for advertising partners

This came up briefly in my conversation with Katherine Bell, as well as in my piece about degrowth, and it is a hard but necessary truth: The best thing we can do for the environment is to consume as little as possible.

For an industry largely funded by advertising, that can be a tough pill to swallow. The Nike ad encouraging readers to buy a new pair of sneakers keeps the lights on, but it also directly conflicts with our moral prerogative to consume less (and, in Nike’s case, more responsibly!).

How can an advertising-funded business tell readers not to consume? It is almost as if capitalism itself is at odds with solving climate change … All the more reason to embrace new, more sustainable financial models, such as non-profit structures and reader donations.

But, if you have to continue advertising (and you probably do, for now), consider vetting your advertising partners. Only work with those who have stellar —  really, sparkling clean —  track records of sustainability. Like, the actually good companies, not the ones with good marketing teams.

Remember when I brought up Bloomberg Green earlier? They are a great example of a publisher whose coverage I admire, but whose advertising partners for said coverage border on the questionable. If you want to launch and really stand behind your eco-reporting, the businesses you work with need to pass muster as well.

Publishers not only report on businesses and are businesses themselves, but they also advertise other businesses! If you can help precipitate a little more climate awareness at your newsroom, you can save three birds with one eco-friendly stone.

Some good readin'

— This year, more than a dozen women have been hired as editor-in-chief of top publishers, so I rounded them all up to put the historic moment in scope. (Adweek)

— I got to lend some thoughts to the question of which newsletter platform is the best, a question I am somewhat well-positioned to answer thanks to my constant switching back and forth between them. (The Wrap)

— My girlfriend wrote a really great piece about Shien, which you should not be buying from. (Vox)

— This grim piece about the limits of subscriber revenue, even for best-in-class publishers like The Atlantic. (NBC)

— I should have written this!!! (Vulture)


Cover image: "The Great Wave off Kanagawa," by Katsushika Hokusai