The Grist holiday letter
Well, it’s been quite a year for the Grist family. We’ve had some cool adventures, visited exciting new places and met interesting people, sampled new foods and new lifestyle choices, ran for public office (kinda), and experienced tough times and triumphs along the way.
Hopefully it’s made us stronger and wiser — ’cause we’re sure gonna need it in 2017!
As Grist’s new executive editor, I feel like the proud father of this motley bunch, so it falls on me to pen the year-end account of all that we’ve accomplished. And there’s no shortage of good bragging material for Dad this time around.
- Every family needs an exciting travel story, and we’ve got more than one. We sent two of our reporting fellows to tough-to-reach locations to bring you important stories about indigenous people battling to protect their land, air, water, and homes.
- The entire newsroom has doubled down on digging for “impact stories” — stories that deliver delight, unexpected insight, and lasting value to our readers. We told the story of a natural burial, explained why you shouldn’t give Apple’s recycling robot your old phone, took a surprising ride with Donald Glover’s hit show Atlanta, explained how air conditioning shaped America, went inside the climate movement’s Trump-fighting strategy, bit into the revolutionary veggie burger that bleeds, and much more.
- We launched Briefly, a daily news update for a mobile-first audience. Readers have told us they love our short, smart takes on the stories that really matter — and how good they look on a phone. As one eloquent fan put it: “Grist got mad clear.”
- We also produced the inaugural installment of the Grist 50 — a now-annual (meaning we’re working on the 2017 edition) look at the innovators, organizers, and visionaries who will lead us toward a more sustainable future. It was like adding a whole new family!
- In a similar vein, Chip Giller — the guy who founded Grist 17 years ago as an email newsletter — decided it was time to found yet another important thing. So, post-election, he launched a new newsletter called “Shift Happens” that introduces Grist readers to even more people and ideas providing hope and progress in this crazy world.
- Grist’s political correspondents provided in-depth climate coverage throughout election season — even as debate moderators ignored the topic. (We even explained why they do that.) After the votes were cast, the mainstream media finally realized that the future of our planet was at stake (a bit late, folks). Grist readers, however, knew it all along.
- Because all the world loves a good flip-flop story, every news outlet in the country paid attention when we dug up an old New York Times ad in which Donald Trump and his family had endorsed urgent climate action. (Trust us, we were confused, too.) Months later, the story continues to be referenced whenever any political observer tries to make sense of Trump’s conflicting climate statements. “Remember the full-page ad you signed,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse wrote in a widely circulated open letter to Trump after the election. “The signatories did not include just you, but your children, Donald, Jr., Eric, and Ivanka. Their future and their reputations are in your hands, too.”
- We published several terrific special reporting projects, including the 10th anniversary behind-the-scenes story of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth — or, as we called it (while envisioning climate deniers’ heads exploding): The Slideshow That Saved the World.
- We also examined America’s national parks on their 100th anniversary — not by looking back, but by looking forward at how the parks must adapt to the nation’s growing diversity, the increasingly urban nature of our country, and climate change.
- Senior writer Nathanael Johnson did what he does best with a deep dive into a critical and complicated topic: alleviating global poverty without wrecking the environment. I don’t have to heap praise on this one myself, because others did it for me: NYU prof and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Dan Fagin called Nathanael’s series “truly extraordinary work” and said he is “a treasure of environmental journalism.” Don’t let it go to your head, Nathanael!
- Associate editor Eve Andrews sought to atone for a lifetime of eating meat by trying out veganism for a month, starting with breaking her fast on Yom Kippur (appropriate). The lessons she learned help her make the case for an imperfect vegan lifestyle.
- Eve’s vegan experiment was a fun part of our ongoing video explainers series, which tackles tricky environmental topics with wit and a wink. Those explainers were nominated for not just one but two prestigious journalism awards this year, and Grist itself was a finalist for best nonprofit website in the Folio magazine awards. Nathanael was also recognized by the James Beard Awards for his important feature on palm oil.
- Grist alum and newly minted Pulitzer Prize winner Kathryn Schulz (who will always be a part of the Grist family) kicked off our new Learning Labs series, which provides in-house training for our staff. Several other smart people participated in later Learning Lab installments, including NPR’s Elise Hu and the Solutions Journalism Network. We also hosted visits from astronaut Chris Hadfield (who, strangely, doesn’t like moon pies) and food politics author Marion Nestle (whose moon pie opinion we sadly neglected to ask, but who had a lot to say about Donald Trump and weed), among many others. Thanks to all the interesting and wonderful people we interacted with this year!
Even while doing all of that, we’ve spent a lot of time plotting out the future of Grist — one with a renewed focus on solutions, equity, and empowerment. We weren’t planning for the election of Donald Trump, but some of the steps we’ve taken this year to strengthen our reporting team are going to pay off bigly as we prepare to hold his polluter-packed administration accountable.
The media landscape remains rocky, and journalism finds itself on the brink of another big contraction — even as it becomes clear that what we do is more important than ever. Grist is certainly not immune to these greater forces. But the story that we have to tell — about a planet that doesn’t burn and a future that doesn’t suck — will be more vital than ever in 2017.
So here’s our family mantra for the coming year: Don’t freak out. Figure it out. We hope you’ll join and support us in this effort — perhaps with a year-end gift (’tis the season, after all). We can use all the help we can get.