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Eco-Roundup: How to Save Journalism and the World

Every month, I assemble a round-up of stories I’m following and issues I’m covering, with palate cleansers at the end.

It’s been a grim few weeks in media. On the one hand, we have the revelations that the New York Times hired someone with no reporting experience to cover a deeply sensitive story about sexual assaults of Israelis on October 7. The article claimed with weak evidence that Hamas systematically used sexual violence as a weapon of war. The flimsy piece is helping justify the mass killing of over 30,000 Palestinians and starvation of those under siege in Gaza. It sparked backlash even from family members of one of the named victims.

And on the other hand, we have hundreds of media workers laid off at Vice, DCist, NowThis, and my old workplace The Intercept, among many others. The Intercept has been doing truly critical work on Israel’s bombardment of Gaza — they have led the reporting on The Times’ and other major publishers' biased coverage. But at this critical moment, they axed investigative journalist Alice Speri, the reporter on staff with the deepest knowledge of and experience covering Israel and Palestine. It is a significant loss, and one that I feel particularly strongly since Alice and I worked closely together at The Intercept. In 2017, we co-reported leaked documents that revealed how the private security company TigerSwan was repressing the Indigenous-led movement to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock, which continues to be a focus of investigation for me.

Also given the boot was newsroom developer Akil Harris, the data architect on our Climate and Punishment series, where we mapped the locations of thousands of detention facilities against climate risk. Akil constantly built cool tools that made complex investigative projects way easier. Since some of you subscribers work for environmental publications or on podcasts, I also have to mention Schuyler Mitchell, one of the only reporters who was doing environmental coverage at The Intercept, and Jose Olivares, who is excellent at making investigative journalism work for audio. Rashmee Kumar would make a great investigations editor for y’all’s newsrooms, and journalist Elise Swain seriously does all the things, from photo editing to reporting. 

Anyway, it is uncertain that all of these people will stay in journalism, because the jobs and stability are not there, so I hope those of you in positions of power hire them. And I also hope all of us are ready to get to work to organize for systems that help us stop bleeding journalists. Democratic workplace structures can help avoid a situation where two or three highly paid executives make decisions about everyone’s fate, so I’m very excited about coops like Defector and Hell Gate (please support them!). My colleague Amy Westervelt also has some very good thoughts about how foundations could rethink the way they support journalistic institutions — for starters, by not trying to insert themselves into editorial decisions.

However, as folks like labor journalist Hamilton Nolan have pointed out, neither coops nor better foundation behavior will solve the problem of funding shortfalls. Since advertising migrated from newspapers to the Internet, no model has successfully replaced newspaper advertising revenue enough to support the thousands of journalists our communities deserve. Tech companies like Facebook and Google have voluntarily donated money to local news organizations, but it's far from replacing lost ad revenue. An analysis by the nonprofit Campaign for Accountability concluded, “Google’s media giving is designed, at least in part, to advance its policy goals.”

Undoubtedly, these companies are wary of public policies, like the ones in Australia and Canada, that have forced them to give money to media companies to compensate for lost revenue. More and more people are pointing toward public funding as the only sustainable solution.

If we, as journalists and news consumers, want something nice, we have to get organized. We have to decide what model is going to serve us and fight for it. Honestly, it's not totally clear to me that Canada and Australia's approaches to redistributing tech funds are it. We need to know more, and we need to make sure we have a hand in deciding how this goes.

My starting point, as usual, is the National Writers Union’s Freelance Solidarity Project. My friends there already have a Media Economy Working Group going. If you're a freelancer, please join FSP, and get involved in that group. I’m sure unions that represent staff reporters like WGAE and The News Guild are also on it. And let me be clear that when I say they’re “on it,” I mean they’ve got the ball rolling but really, really need help from people who are down to get their hands dirty and take some initiative. The people starting these groups are often people who already have six other organizing endeavors they're barely managing. We really need help, or it's not going to happen in the best way. If you need a place to plug in, seriously hit me up, and I can help.     

In case you missed it:

The audio version of my investigation into how the Department of Homeland Security's "environmental extremism" label fed a draconian crackdown against Cop City opponents in Georgia is out. It features the voices of multiple people facing terror charges, including the partner of Tortuguita, a forest defender who was killed by law enforcement. Drilled also published this piece I edited about efforts in Uganda to repress opposition to the East African Crude Oil Pipeline. Our reporter, who is based in Uganda, spoke to multiple protesters who have been arrested repeatedly and gets into how the project stands to displace thousands of people.

“Universities continue to benefit from colonization.”

Drop everything and read this investigation. The United States' university system was built using land stolen from Indigenous people and granted to 52 educational institutions via the Morrill Act. Tristan Ahtone and his team at Grist mapped "8.2 million surface and subsurface acres taken from 123 Indigenous nations," and revealed how universities continue to be fed by extraction of resources — including fossil fuels — from land stolen from people whose grandchildren can't afford to attend the schools.

You can go in and search individual universities and see each associated parcel of land, the tribes it was taken from, and how it's now used. My alma mater, The University of Minnesota, for example benefited handsomely from the largest mass execution in U.S. history, of 38 Dakota men (ordered by your bff Abraham Lincoln), which led to the opening of new land. Those lands continue to produce revenue — more than $17 million in revenue between 2018 and 2022, Ahtone and the team reported "primarily through leases for the mining of iron and taconite." As for the mining, it "left lasting visual blightwater contamination from historic mine tailings, and elevated rates of mesothelioma among taconite workers in Minnesota."

"Wind turbines, solar panels, and dams are not renewable."

Xander Dunlap's research on corporate counterinsurgency has majorly influenced my thinking on how fossil fuel and mining corporations respond to environmental and Indigenous protest. He's also a very nice guy who has always been super generous with his time. His new book, This System is Killing Us: Land Grabbing, the Green Economy and Ecological Conflict, draws on some of the studies I read as I wrote my own piece on corporate counterinsurgency, and you should get your hands on it. As the publisher put it, "Xander Dunlap spent a decade living and working with Indigenous activists and land defenders across the world to uncover evidence of the repression people have faced in the wake of untamed capitalist growth." I wrote a blurb for the book, and I meant it: "Dunlap’s work is vital for understanding the forces driving violence against land and water defenders around the world — and why a transition to 'renewable' energy will fail to stop it."

"I've never seen Indians there. People say they're there, but I've never seen them."

What's so fascinating about The Territory, a documentary about deforestation in an Indigenous territory of Brazil, is the access that the filmmakers had to not only the Uru-eu-wau-wau community — who filmed some parts of the movie themselves — but also the settlers who are encroaching on their homeland. I am always interested in books and films that explore the perspective of the villain, because I think it's critical to understanding why bad things happen. This movie's access to someone actively carrying out settler colonialism is a window into U.S. history — and into what's happening in Palestine. It also, of course, helps explain why the Amazon rainforest is being destroyed.

The settler at the center of the story is driven by not only his desire for social mobility, but also by the idea that what he is doing is patriotic and in alignment with his Christianity. He knows that what he's doing is illegal, but he also knows that the state will ultimately back him up. There's this chilling moment where the settler, who is actively burning down rainforest to establish an agricultural community, claims that there are no Indians in the area. Even he must know it's a lie, but saying so starts to establish a myth that the Indigenous people and their claims to the land are a myth. The Uru-eu-wau-wau people are left to defend themselves, with the government bodies meant to protect forests and Indigenous people under-resourced and absent. It's on Hulu – go watch it!

Palate Cleansers

I cover topics that are heavy and distressing to take in, so I'm ending these posts with things that make me feel grounded: food, nature, community.

Something Delicious: Romesco + Shrooms

Those who know me best know I love to bring the dips and sauce. This tangy romesco sauce stole my heart last month. Do the version with the pickled peppadews, and you will be so glad. I ate it with some pinto beans + greens + roasted winter squash, and these vinegary mushrooms. (I didn't bother to buy the tarragon and it was fine and great.)

Garden Update: February Parsley

On a stressful day in February, I stepped onto my deck for the first time in months to get some air. I was shocked to find that the goddamn parsley had popped back up out of the ground, looking green and fresh. The borage, too, was looking healthy. The sight of it flooded me with relief. This dark barren winter wouldn't be for long. I was texting with a source in North Dakota last week, and he said that they hadn't seen snow since I visited in October. That weekend, he planned to start preparing his land for the garden. Unsettling how a force that can drown and burn entire communities can also provide the sweetness of a mild winter and early spring.

Bulletin Board: Climate for Kids

My coworker Mary Annaïse Heglar just published a climate book for children, and you should buy it. It's called "The World Is Ours to Cherish: A Letter to a Child." She says it was inspired by her relationship with her nephew and the question of how to start to talk to kids about the reality of the climate crisis. I know a lot of you friends have kiddies in your life, and this is a great place to start those conversations.

BTW public service announcement that if you don't have a hearty system for backing up your computer and all your archives, you should figure that out right now. This dang post is a day later than I wanted because I spilled a smoothie all over my laptop yesterday (it survived after a day of drying and a trip to the computer store). Also last December, I had a very important external hard drive AND its backup almost fail simultaneously. It can and will happen to you. Multiple, backups people. Do it, or cry.