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The seeds for the Fund for Environmental Journalism were sown in the spring of 2009 — and like a bumper crop of heirloom tomatoes — came to fruition over the heat of summer when the SEJ Board met in New Orleans and Washington state, respectively.
What emerged was an idea followed by the commitment to set up a fund to serve as an incubator for new ideas, projects and training for environmental journalists. Such a fund might cover travel costs for a story, pay someone's way to a workshop for building entrepreneurial skills or help finance completion of a major journalism project.
"We wanted to help somehow, without competing with our own members," SEJ President Christy George said. "The idea that emerged from months of discussion was the Fund for Environmental Journalism.
"These grants will help environmental journalists struggling in the current media environment to redefine themselves, or their platform," she said.
This is a pivotal time for both the environment and journalism. Climate change, energy transitions, resource conflicts and a host of other environmental issues are increasingly prominent in the news and in the forums of policy makers. The need for robust, engaging, well-disseminated environmental news reporting has never been more important, and will grow even more critical in the coming decades.
Energizing as it is to be covering the environmental issues at this critical time, the work has never been more challenging, as the news media landscape undergoes tectonic change. Many longtime, once-formidable news organizations have been perilously weakened by the loss of advertising and audience. Some newspapers are in bankruptcy, and some are shuttered for good. Television and radio newsrooms have made drastic cuts in editorial staff and resources. Magazines continue to fold. The beat system of reporting is under siege, and many news outlets have scrapped, or over-burdened, their dedicated environment reporter. Travel and training funds are scarce.
Amid the chaos and decline of many mainstream news organizations, new outlets for serious investigative and explanatory journalism are springing up, exploring innovative ways to report and present stories and engage the public. They offer hope that meaningful journalism can survive the current upheaval and perhaps enjoy a renaissance in new forms of media. Yet the startups’ long-term sustainability remains to be seen, as they struggle to forge viable business models. With mainstream and new media alike unable to offer living wages to many journalists, or even to pay much for freelance work, journalists determined to cover environment-related issues, either on staff or as an independent, face tough times indeed. Environmental coverage stands to lose ground just when our communities need it most.
In response to these factors, the Board of Directors of the Society of Environmental Journalists decided in October 2009 to create the Fund for Environmental Journalism (FEJ). Its purpose is to provide incentives and support to qualified journalists and news organizations to enhance the quantity and quality of environmental journalism reaching mass audiences in the United States, Mexico and Canada (since expanded to global audiences). At its January 2010 meeting, the SEJ board allocated $10,000 to launch the FEJ. Individual donations totalling more than $5,000 in 2010 allowed SEJ to increase overall disbursement for the first year of the Fund. We have been able to raise the bar even higher in subsequent rounds due to generous grants from the Grantham Foundation, Cornelius King Foundation, Heinz Endowments, and additional gifts from friends of SEJ. We are constantly working to increase the number of contributors to this important program.
Since 2010, the Fund for Environmental Journalism has distributed over $104,000 in grants to journalism projects. Future rounds are dependent on new donations. We are soliciting grants and individual contributions to help establish and grow the Fund, set up expressly to provide incentives and support to qualified journalists and news organizations to enhance the quantity and quality of environmental journalism.
Please support the Fund for Environmental Journalism and other SEJ Programs with your generous donation.