SEJ Finds New Ways To Help Journalists Pursue Their Stories

January 15, 2011

President's Report


A co-worker talked me into joining SEJ in 1994, at the same time she convinced me to tag along with her to the Provo, Utah, conference. Like many other SEJ members, it was the conference experience that hooked me.

Here it is 16 years later, and I’m still passionate about SEJ and privileged to be serving as SEJ president.

Over the last two decades, SEJ has not wavered from its commitment to help journalists navigate the complexities of environmental issues.

SEJ’s reach, however, has grown beyond the conferences. It now offers mentoring opportunities, annual reporting awards and electronic notification tools like the TipSheet, WatchDog TipSheet, list-serves. Tons of resources, including past issues of the SEJournal and The Daily Glob, which keeps members current on news involving the Gulf oil spill, are found on SEJ’s website.

SEJ is always looking for new opportunities to connect journalists with the resources needed for environmental reporting projects, build a stronger network of educated environmental journalists, and stimulate and improve coverage of critical environmental issues.

By the time this edition of the SEJournal lands in your mailbox SEJ will have distributed a second round of grants through its Fund for Environmental Journalism.

Launched earlier this year with $10,000 in earned income and another $5,000 in directed donations, the program offers modest grants to partially underwrite environmental reporting projects and entrepreneurial ventures. Grant money can be used for project-relevant travel, training, research, database analysis, consults, and other direct expenses.

Reporting projects funded in the inaugural round focused on a range of environmental topics including: climate change and forestry in Panama, water and agriculture in Wisconsin, invasive fish, and climate change and water pollution. SEJ also awarded grants to help two independent journalists develop websites.

SEJ distributed 11 grants totaling nearly $8,000 in the first round, reserving the remaining $7,000 for the second wave of grants. (A list of the journalists and projects winning the first grants is here.)

The Fund for Environmental Journalism is one way SEJ is furthering its mission “to strengthen the quality, reach and viability of journalism across all media to advance public understanding of environmental issues.’’ In this era of diminishing newsroom resources and jobs, even small grants, like these, can help bring projects, and some entrepreneurial ventures, to fruition.

SEJ is exploring funding sources for the program for 2011 and beyond.

Financial policies the board of directors approved in 2009 also can aid independent journalists who are pursuing large grants for environmental journalism projects. Because SEJ is a 501(c)(3) charity, it can act as “fiscal sponsor’’ for journalists who receive grants from a third party.

The policies open the door for journalists, who are not 501(c)(3) organizations, to pursue funding for their reporting projects from grant makers who can only fund public charities, not individuals.

SEJ would administer such grants for a fee that would range from five percent to 16 percent, depending on the level of work and time involved.

The policies require a legally binding “fiscal sponsorship’’ agreement. Proposed projects must be well-developed and led by a qualified individual, advance SEJ’s journalistic mission, and involve minimal risk to SEJ. All projects are subject to approval of the SEJ executive director and board of directors.


Chris Rigel will be moving to Louisville, Kentucky and transitioning to a consulting role with SEJ. Photo by Jim Bruggers.

Finally, the SEJ board wants to acknowledge the remarkable service of Chris Rigel as a dedicated, hard-working full-time employee at Philadelphia-area headquarters since January of 1993.


Chris has served in so many capacities for SEJ, most recently as director of programs and operations. In January, she is moving to Louisville, Kentucky and transitioning to a consulting role with SEJ. We’re grateful that Chris wants to continue helping SEJ with the awards program, membership and election data systems, the annual conference and more. But you won’t find her at headquarters. Thanks Chris, for all you’ve done for SEJ and for sticking with us.

Carolyn Whetzel, SEJ board president, covers environment issues in California for BNA Inc.

* From the quarterly newsletter SEJournal, Winter 2010-11 issue.

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