SEJ President’s Report: Fostering SEJ’s New Era of Leadership
By Meera Subramanian
Hello from your new president! For those who don’t know me, I’m Meera Subramanian, an author and freelance journalist who has benefited immensely from all that the Society of Environmental Journalists has offered during the 14 years I’ve been a member, helping me grow my career in ways I never could have imagined back in J-school.
|Photo: Ashley Garmon|
I look forward to the year ahead as a time to give back at this critical juncture, when SEJ is entering a new era of leadership and the natural world is experiencing threats that make environmental journalism matter more than ever. Please feel free to visit my website — www.meerasub.org — if you’d like to know more about me or my writing.
But here I want to dive into all the great work SEJ is enacting as it celebrates 30 years (on Valentine’s Day!) of deepening the public’s understanding of environmental issues.
First, a colossal thank you to Bobby Magill. He served as president for three tumultuous years as we transitioned, twice, to new executive directors. Now, with Meaghan Parker at the helm for more than a year, Bobby still steadfastly serving on the Executive Committee, a board of directors composed of talented individuals and a staff that always goes above and beyond, SEJ is poised to do its greatest work yet.
I take on this role committed to doing my best to foster this thriving organization as it enhances existing programs, expands new ones, creates new partnerships and reaches out so more journalists from diverse backgrounds can benefit from them. There’s no better time; SEJ has reached an all-time record membership level with 1,520 members in 2019. Together, we can do the necessary work to ensure that the organization stays vital and relevant in a constantly shifting media landscape on a rapidly changing planet.
Here’s a roundup of the latest SEJ activities:
The year ahead
On Jan. 24, SEJ returns to Washington, D.C., for the eighth annual look-ahead at the year's biggest stories in the field. Traditionally held in a space generously provided by the Wilson Center, we’ll be shifting to the National Geographic Society as our host this year to accommodate the growing crowds drawn to this event featuring top journalists sharing their insider perspectives. Don’t forget to check out the most recent edition of the related Journalists' Guide to Energy & the Environment.
#SEJ2019 in Fort Collins
Susan Moran and Joshua Zaffos co-chaired a stellar conference that, when we surveyed attendees afterwards, 99% said would recommend to their colleagues. Hosted by Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo., it was packed full of informative panels, networking and mentoring opportunities, a student newsroom and workshops on covering climate and Indian Country and how to stay safe in hostile situations. When a storm struck on field tour day, the temperature plummeting and snow souring plans for the Rockies, Jay Letto and tour leaders scrambled and still pulled off great visits covering wildfires, environmental justice, species conservation, renewable energy research and more. Audio recordings of most conference panels are available on your favorite podcast platform.
|New SEJ Board of Directors President Meera Subramanian sends her greetings and an invitation to support SEJ’s mission.|
#SEJ2020 in Boise
Looking forward to next fall, SEJ’s 30th annual conference takes place at Boise State University in Boise, Idaho, Sept. 23-27, 2020. Balancing a long legacy of mining and logging with bipartisan conservation successes, the region now faces new challenges that come with rapid urban development in America’s fastest-growing city and intensive agriculture in its valleys. Co-chairs Christy George and Rocky Barker are planning tours that will cover the state’s highlights, from the Sawtooth Mountains to the Idaho National Laboratory to the World Center for Birds of Prey. And come ready to celebrate SEJ’s 30th year in style at the always-popular Saturday night party!
And the winner is…
Award judges had a challenge choosing the best of the year’s environmental journalism from the record 478 entries, but winners were celebrated in Fort Collins for their pieces on toxic cities, mining in the Philippines, climate change and more. We celebrated the Year of the Student Journalist by (re-)launching a student award category, with generous funding from the Ray Reece Environmental Journalism Foundation. The Nina Mason Pulliam Award for the "best of the best" environmental reporting, with a $10,000 prize, went to Reuters' "Ocean Shock" series.
Funding the work. Doing the work.
Meaghan has been doing an exemplary job of enhancing support from existing donors and cultivating new ones. She has secured new and renewed grants to support investments in SEJ’s operational capacity, to continue existing programs and to expand the Fund for Environmental Journalism, or FEJ. In 2019, the staff and conference team exceeded targets in almost all revenue categories, including registration, sponsorships, membership dues and awards entry fees. Some of that funding will strengthen the reach of SEJournal with new climate change resources. Your suggestions for new funding sources are always welcome. Don’t hesitate to connect Meaghan directly to any potential donors or supporters.
Planning for the future
Not only has the media landscape monumentally shifted over the last generation, but so have nonprofit management, funding trends and operational risks. Nothing about the world is the same as it was when SEJ formed in 1990. That’s what makes a recent Hewlett Foundation organizational effectiveness grant so important to SEJ. Board and staff are working to develop a new strategic plan, train volunteer board members, revise outdated policies and streamline decision-making. The generous grant allowed SEJ to hire strategic consultant Scott Miller, a former SEJ member and former president of Resource Media, to guide the board in this effort.
Creating a new strategic plan means stepping back from the details of deadlines and asking big questions about where we want to be in five years. How do we professionalize our board in a time of growth? How to categorize members when the fundamental definition of what falls within the bounds of journalism is shifting continuously? And how to answer these questions while staying true to the vision of our founders and constraints of our bylaws? Please reach out to Meaghan or me if you’d like to share any thoughts on these long-term planning questions. The board aims to finalize the plan by the fall.
Diversity, equity and inclusion
Like many journalism and most environmental organizations, SEJ has long been a mostly white-led organization, and according to the 2017 member survey, the number of SEJ members of color is quite low. As part of the strategic planning process, the board and staff have committed to making SEJ a more equitable organization.
SEJ’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiative
is about supporting journalism that covers
issues and communities too often forgotten and
about supporting the journalists who offer
vantages left for too long out of the newsroom.
This fall, Meaghan and SEJ board member Lyndsey Gilpin participated in a two-day Diversity, Equity and Inclusion workshop funded by the Hewlett Foundation, which will be followed by one-on-one coaching and a capstone workshop in 2020. Lessons will be shared with board and staff and integrated into decision-making about programs and operations, so we can best incorporate diversity, equity and inclusion into all levels of the organization. This goes way beyond avoiding “manels” at conferences. It’s about supporting journalism that covers issues and communities too often forgotten and about supporting the journalists who offer vantages left for too long out of the newsroom.
Efforts are already underway: for example, the most recent FEJ Story Grants competition waived entry fees not just for SEJ members, but for members of the diversity J-groups as well. The SEJ-Diversity listserv has also been reenergized of late, with help from members of a new group that is called Environmental Journalists of Color, or EJOC, with which SEJ hopes to maintain a strong connection. I’m interested in this not only as the daughter of an immigrant who’s written about global issues, but as a journalist who recognizes that the more diverse your sources and subject matter are, the better the story.
To ensure SEJ has the best story possible, we need you. Benefit from all that SEJ offers, and then join in the good work of making it happen. There are abundant opportunities to get involved. I personally invite you to reach out to me if you’re interested in contributing to the SEJournal or serving as a volunteer on a committee, task force or the board of directors. Let us celebrate all that SEJ has done over the last three decades, and turn our attention to the years ahead and all that still needs to be done to support an informed public on some of the most pressing issues of our planet.
Meera Subramanian is the newly named president of the Society of Environmental Journalists. She is an award-winning independent journalist whose work has been published in national and international publications including the New York Times, TheNewYorker.com, Nature, InsideClimate News, Virginia Quarterly Review and Orion, where she serves as a contributing editor. Her book "A River Runs Again: India's Natural World in Crisis, from the Barren Cliffs of Rajasthan to the Farmlands of Karnataka," published by PublicAffairs in 2015, was short-listed for the 2016 Orion Book Award. Her essays have been anthologized in "Best American Science and Nature Writing," as well as multiple editions of "The Best Women's Travel Writing." She was an MIT Knight Science Journalism fellow (2016-17) and Fulbright-Nehru Senior Research Fellow (2013-14), and is serving as the Currie C. and Thomas A. Barron Visiting Professor in the Environment and the Humanities at Princeton University for the 2019-2020 academic year. Based in Cape Cod, you can find her at www.meerasub.org and @meeratweets.
* From the weekly news magazine SEJournal Online, Vol. 5, No. 1. Content from each new issue of SEJournal Online is available to the public via the SEJournal Online main page. Subscribe to the e-newsletter here. And see past issues of the SEJournal archived here.