Walton Family Foundation Launches Environmental Journalism Initiative Exploring How to Support Field at Critical Moment
Washington, D.C. – In advance of Earth Day, the Walton Family Foundation today announced a new initiative aimed at strengthening the field of environmental journalism. #HeresWhy seeks to explore the challenges facing environmental journalism, expand the audience for environmental news, and determine what role philanthropy can play in bolstering the field.
“Quality journalism is critical to having an informed public who can hold decision-makers accountable on many different issues, including public health, the economy and racial justice. The health of the environment is intimately connected to all of these issues," explains Moira Mcdonald, director of the Walton Family Foundation Environment Program. “With so much environmental and climate news happening right now, we must ensure reporters, editors, and the public who rely on them understand how and why these issues connect and define some of the most important challenges before us.”
With shrinking news budgets, competing interests for print space and airtime, and an increased reliance on advertising sales already stretching newsrooms thin and significantly altering the environmental journalism field, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these challenges. Fewer reporters covering more news is forcing journalists to write about issues beyond their regular beats, leaving less time and space for environmental news. Even as climate change emerges as the most critical issue of the era, climate-related news coverage is decreasing. A recent poll shows television is people’s most common news source for information about climate change. Yet climate made up just 0.4 percent of morning, nightly, and Sunday morning broadcast television news shows in 2020.
To address this challenge, the Walton Family Foundation, one of the nation’s top journalism funders, is planning a series of listening sessions, research projects, and financial commitments, starting with a $785,000 grant to The Associated Press (AP) to develop three new water and environment beats.
“Water quality and allocation are fundamental issues of climate change and impact communities far and wide,” said Sarah Nordgren, AP deputy managing editor. “This grant will enable AP to increase coverage in video, text, and photos of water issues in the West, along the Mississippi River, and, from a policy perspective, in Washington, D.C. Whether you’re coming from a health standpoint, an economic standpoint, or an equity standpoint—you can’t tell the whole story of water if you don’t include the environmental piece.”
In addition to this grant, the Walton Family Foundation is planning several virtual roundtable discussions with journalists, nonprofits, NGOs, academics, philanthropies, and other partners to explore the state of environmental journalism today, where people get their environmental news, how to expand and diversify the field, and what role philanthropy should play.
The first listening session of the series will be on May 19 when the Walton Family Foundation joins Media Impact Funders at its annual Media Impact Forum, which brings funders and media makers together to share insights about influential projects and trends. This Media Impact Forum session will feature media experts discussing where consumers get environmental news, who they trust, and how they filter the environmental content they receive, and will also explore the connection between media narratives and public opinion.
“The public has a right to know what's happening to the water they drink, the food they eat, and the air they breathe," said Meaghan Parker, executive director for the Society of Environmental Journalists. “We applaud the Walton Family Foundation for supporting more and better news coverage of these critical environmental challenges, especially at a time when thousands of journalists are out of work. This effort highlights the need for innovative investments that can transform environmental journalism into a sustainable career, including support for training, convening, and mentoring to build the pipeline of future environmental journalists."
#HeresWhy will culminate later this year when the Walton Family Foundation shares its findings and recommendations. As the effort progresses, the foundation hopes that other foundations will join the effort.
“From health to business to culture, many news stories have environmental angles that directly connect to our lives and livelihoods,” said Mcdonald. “We’re certainly not the first foundation to explore this issue. But our hope is that by elevating this critical need and creating space for this discussion, other philanthropies will join in so that we can coordinate our funding efforts and ensure all of our grant dollars go farther.”
To learn more about the initiative, follow #HeresWhy on Twitter.
About the Walton Family Foundation
The Walton Family Foundation is, at its core, a family-led foundation. Three generations of the descendants of our founders, Sam and Helen Walton, and their spouses, work together to lead the foundation and create access to opportunity for people and communities. We work in three areas: improving K-12 education, protecting rivers and oceans and the communities they support, and investing in our home region of Northwest Arkansas and the Arkansas-Mississippi Delta. In 2019, the foundation awarded more than $525 million in grants in support of these initiatives. To learn more, visit waltonfamilyfoundation.org and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.