InsideClimate News Is Turning 10. Its Founder Looks Back, and Ahead to the Next Decade

David Sassoon founded InsideClimate News 10 years ago as a blog. Today, we are a Pulitzer Prize-winning news outlet widely known for some of the most hard-hitting environmental investigations of our time. ICN Director of Strategic Development Beth Daley recently talked with Sassoon to reflect on the last decade — and hear about his vision for the next. Please consider supporting our work.

David Sassoon

BD: Why did you launch InsideClimate News in 2007?

DS: It was clearly evident then that a deliberate campaign to confuse the American public about the reality of climate change was succeeding. It was also clear that the mainstream media had acquiesced to the confusion and was not properly covering the story. Not only the story of climate change, but also the related story of how mass confusion about the subject was being intentionally fostered.

So we saw an opportunity to make an important contribution to both public discourse and journalistic practice.

Then, soon after we launched, American journalism began to implode in a devastating financial crisis. Tens of thousands of reporters lost their jobs. The national capacity for civic self-awareness suffered a major blow. Our little operation found itself not only in the middle of the climate crisis, but also the journalism crisis.

From one point of view, our timing could not have been worse. From another point of view, though, our timing could not have been better, because there we were in a position to make a difference, even as a tiny start-up. It helped immensely that we were a non-profit, and not obligated to make money in awful circumstances.

BD: How has that initial spark evolved over time to where we are today?

We started out by blogging — the fastest, cheapest form of derivative journalism — and have now become known for our groundbreaking investigations — the slowest, most expensive form of original journalism. We traveled a long arc to find the bedrock of our enterprise. Now we are working to make our model sustainable, and to grow to full size.

BD: For-profit news outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, among others, are ramping up their climate coverage. ICN is growing too. What sets ICN apart?

The ramp up in climate coverage by other outlets is much needed and quite welcome. We can’t have too much of it.

Still, I think it’s accurate to say that InsideClimate News runs the largest environmental newsroom in the country. There are 15 of us dedicating ourselves every day to covering climate and energy issues, 365 days a year. We’ve been doing this for 10 years now, and we’re working to grow our shop to 25 or 30 people. So the depth of knowledge and experience we have is unparalleled.

Every major newspaper should have an environment section that it fills with relevant stories not just every week, but every day, just like the business section or the sports section. But they don’t, or can’t afford to, so we’re filling a vital gap.

The other major thing that sets us apart is our focus on accountability. Climate change is an unplanned and destructive threat to our global ecosystem. Who is responsible for it? Who is profiting from it? Who is standing in the way of solutions? Who is trying to solve it? Why? The scientific evidence is clear enough for us to know that cities and towns everywhere are in danger right now. Lives are at stake right now. To ignore this is journalistic negligence.

One more thing sets us apart, too. We don’t have a pay wall. You can subscribe to any of our newsletters or read InsideClimate News for free.

BD: Ten years in, what gets you up in the morning to run ICN?

Mostly it’s the people that work here and the sense of common purpose and mutual respect that we have, and knowing that I better not miss a payroll. I am also driven by a larger goal to establish ICN as a permanent environmental newsroom serving the public interest for decades to come.

BD: What is your/ICN’s secret sauce for deeper, broader public engagement on climate change?

In a word, it’s perseverance. We do our job every day — bear witness and tell stories unflinchingly. If people don’t want to read them , as Yogi Berra said, you can’t stop ’em . But we’re in a partnership with scientific reality and truth. The climate story is not going away; it’s only getting bigger.

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