I’m Grist’s new executive editor. Tell me how to do my job.
A wonderful thing happened last month when I started telling folks that I had been named executive editor at Grist. Along with all the much-appreciated personal kudos, I heard from many friends and colleagues about how much they liked — nay, loved — my new publication.
That didn’t surprise me. After all, a lot of my friends are journalists or environmentalists or environmental journalists (or at the very least, eco-curious), and Grist’s special place in this field is a big part of why I wanted the job. But after a while, I couldn’t help but feel as if all those Grist fans were both congratulating me and issuing a subtle warning: “Don’t screw it up.”
And truly, I wouldn’t blame anyone who felt that way. Grist has been around since 1999, which makes it practically a dinosaur on digital publishing timescales. Fortunately, it’s one of the bird-like dinosaurs that managed to escape extinction, evolve, and soar. Chip Giller and the other Grist founders were truly visionary, seeing the need for an online news outlet that could interest a new generation in sustainability and solutions, without taking itself too seriously.
The roster of raw journalistic talent (and Twitter stardom) that has passed through this place is astounding: Kathryn Schulz, Kate Sheppard, Christopher Mims, Tom Philpott, Philip Bump, Brentin Mock, Jess Zimmerman, Greg Hanscom, Sarah Goodyear, Jennifer Prediger, Amanda Little, Scott Rosenberg, Ted Alvarez, and of course David Roberts, just to name a few. And that’s to say nothing of the talent currently on staff — the Kathryn Schulzes and David Robertses of the future. (Nathanael Johnson, for instance, was just nominated for the food-writing Oscars.) That’s an inspiring legacy placed in my hands.
Still, if I’m going to help Grist continue to grow and thrive, becoming even smarter and sharper and more essential, I’m going to have to do a bit more than just not screw it up. And Grist’s mission has never been more critical. We’re at a key juncture in both the fight against climate change and in American political life. Even as our institutions finally begin to respond to the important challenges facing us, other forces continue to push back and stand in the way of progress. Grist needs to keep guiding the way toward a better future — one that, in the inspiring words of our founder, doesn’t suck.
How do we intend to do that? Hold on, this is the part where I get philosophical and vision-thingy. I’m an old-school news guy at heart — one who spent a dozen years in the daily newspaper trenches — so I believe that a well-informed and engaged citizenry is at the heart of our democratic process. (Yes, I regularly read All the President’s Men before bed at night.) But I’m also a digital early adopter and innovator, who believes we’re creating the tools right now that will enable ideas and information to spread and inspire social change as never before. My vision for Grist is that it builds on both of those traditions and continues to provide a home for the smartest writing, thinking, and storytelling — and the smartest writers, thinkers, and storytellers — about sustainability and solutions anywhere on the planet.
The most important component of all this is you, the reader. Slaying sacred cows doesn’t bring in a lot of big corporate ad dollars — that’s kind of the point. The nonprofit journalism model we follow means we aren’t beholden to anyone but our readers, but it also means that we need those readers to keep us going. We can’t dig up dirt on big polluters or puncture pompous climate-denying windbags without your support. And we can’t reach even more readers unless you help share our stories across your social networks and tell everyone you know to check us out.
So as I dive into this amazing job, I’m asking you for two things: 1.) Continue to support the great team here at Grist in any way you can, as readers, evangelizers, or donors. 2.) Take your partial ownership role seriously and tell me how to do my job better. What is it that would make your Grist experience more essential and inspiring, give you more of the information you need and want on a daily basis, help you battle the forces of climate darkness and social injustice like the Captain Planet you really are?