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As you know from reading this, or this, or following me on Twitter, today is my last day here at Grist; I’ll be starting at Vox.com on April 27 (and yes, my Twitter handle is now @drvox). My first day as a full-time Grist employee was Jan 1, 2004. … [sniff] …
When I was getting ready to leave for my year-long sabbatical in August 2013, I wrote a post that went on at some length about how important Grist has been to me. My decision to respond to that little Craisglist job ad just over 11 years ago may have changed my adult life more than any single event outside meeting my wife.
I won’t get all sappy again. (Though, see also this sappiness, which I still stand behind.) Instead I want to talk about Grist’s place in the media world and why I think you should support it. This isn’t Grist talking, it’s just me.
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When Grist was getting rolling in the early 2000s — I was the fifth full-time staffer; I think we’re up to 35ish now — green issues were barely on the radar. The nation was suffering from post-2001 trauma, the Iraq War, the Bush administration’s serial fuck-ups and scandals, and much else. The government’s sustained assault on environmental protections was buried in the back of the paper if it was covered at all.
But Grist covered it. Day in and day out, obscure amendments and executive orders, budget cuts and backroom deals. There weren’t a lot of people paying attention, but those who cared had a place to go, a voice they trusted to let them know what was happening and what mattered.
Then came the green bubble of 2006-2009. Al Gore’s movie won an Oscar. Republicans proposed cap-and-trade plans. Democrats took Congress and Obama took the White House. NBC ran a “green week” of enviro-themed programming. Every magazine and website did a “green issue” or started a green section. New green publications sprouted up everywhere.
Grist just kept at it, tracking the policy, politics, and pollutocrats behind the hype.
Then, in 2010, the cap-and-trade bill died, the Tea Party took over the GOP and the House of Representatives, and green went back underground. Most of the new green publications folded, green sections and special issues vanished, and green reporters were let go or reassigned. Everyone knew conservatism was ascendent and progress on climate was hopeless.
Grist just kept at it. Even when the cultural and political focus turned elsewhere, we kept expanding, turning our attention to cities, to food, to (ahem) utilities, and beyond that to a broader vision of a future that makes sense. When the rest of the media turned away, we kept looking, and laughing, because shit is fucked up and bullshit, and if you can’t laugh, you might go a little crazy.
Now, climate is back on the agenda and deniers are on the defensive. The climate movement has roared to life. Renewables are getting cheap. Policy progress has sputtered back into gear, though numerous regressive battles are being waged at the state level. And there is a growing cadre of smart journalists focused on climate change and clean energy; it’s never been easier to find information and context.
Maybe we’ve rounded a corner. Maybe it’s more than a trend and it will stick this time. Maybe the stories Grist has been trying to tell for so long have finally gone mainstream. If so, risking the sin of pride, I’ll claim us some of the credit.
But either way, whatever twists and turns history brings, whoever’s paying attention, or isn’t, you can count on one thing: Grist is just going to keep at it.
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It’s possible because of a model Grist helped pioneer: nonprofit, independent, issue-focused journalism with a purpose. We couldn’t do what we do if we depended on the whims of the market and trends in advertising. Our steady presence is enabled by the foresight of socially conscious foundations and, above all, by the support of our readers. That’s y’all.
So we don’t have to chase clicks (though, who’s kidding who, we love your clicks). Nobody ever told me not to write about discount rates or demand response aggregation, though you won’t find them among Twitter’s trending topics. We have different kinds of metrics. We want to matter, to inform and inspire people who are going to change the world.
Grist has been around for so long now — since 1999, roughly 137 in internet years — that it’s easy to take for granted. But the fact that this improbable experiment has not only survived, but consistently gotten better, stronger, and smarter, is a kind of miracle, an ongoing miracle that you’re helping to create every time you share your attention, feedback, and hard-earned dollars with us.
Leaving Grist isn’t easy. I’m having all the feels, as the kids say. (Do they still say that?) What makes it easier is knowing that I’m leaving it in such capable hands. We now have the fellowship program I’ve wanted for so long, keeping a stream of fresh young talent running through the office. We finally have, in the indispensable Brentin Mock, someone covering the environmental justice beat full time. Ben Adler is a double threat, as smart about politics as he is about cities. Nathanael Johnson does thoughtful, probing work on food and agriculture. Heather Smith is killing it on movements and culture. Sometimes Greg Hanscom even gets to pause editing long enough to write great stuff about how cities are coping with our changing climate. And that’s to say nothing of the new talent coming up, Eve Andrews and Amelia Urry and Darby Minow Smith and the rest.
I’ll wrap this up now. (How fitting to go out with an overlong post.) I’ll just say, it’s a special kind of place that will give people like me time to find their footing and their voice, in pursuit of what matters and what might make the world a better place. I hope you’ll support Grist as it continues to provide that platform. I know I will.
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