Well, an important step was creating the Chesapeake Media Service in 2008 as a non-profit organization to serve as the umbrella for the Bay Journal and Bay Journal News Service and receive grants and things. The idea was to establish that the two outlets aren’t part of an environmental organization, and that they have a more journalistic organization behind them. Last year, Chesapeake Media Service became the official publisher of the Bay Journal, replacing the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.
Your question is probably one that applies to environmental journalism in general, but I think that we do a pretty good job, or at least we strive to do a pretty good job, of presenting issues without advocating for them.
Over the last two decades, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand the science of the bay, and I spend a lot of time with scientists. I go to a lot of scientific meetings that nobody else goes to. I also go to a lot of really mind-bogglingly technical meetings that nobody would dream of going to if they didn’t have to because I don’t want somebody to just tell me what time it is. I want to know how the clock is working, so I know how accurate the time is when they tell me. So, I use that approach as an anchor to help guide what we’re going to cover and, to an extent, how we’re going to cover things.
So, you may be a pro-bay group, but you won’t get coverage if you’re raising some type of issue that isn’t really germane, seems to be self-promoting, or reflects somebody’s personal agenda or ax to grind. The same would go for anybody else. We try to keep our eyes on the big picture issues. And after twenty years of covering these issues, I feel pretty safe when I say that a particular subject has very little merit in the scheme of things, even if somebody is pushing it pretty heavily. And I feel like there is a good network of scientists and people who have been around a long time whom we can call to get a sense of whether or not something is important.
Do you know of any other publications that rely on government support to do this type of detailed environmental reporting?
No. There have been some, but most have kind of gone away just because support for that type of thing generally has dwindled, which is unfortunate.
It doesn’t sound like this is something can be easily replicated elsewhere in the country. Is yours a business model that others could follow?
To me, there are two aspects to the question. If the question is simply, can you produce a credible newspaper with government support, then yeah, we’ve been doing that for twenty years and other people may be able to do the same.
But my interest has always been trying to figure out how you take environmental information beyond the choir and develop a system for reaching broader audiences. Can we transcend just doing a publication and create a mechanism for reaching broader audiences, particularly in this day and age where there is a lot less environmental coverage in other newspapers? That’s what I want to see us work on.
We produce a publication that has a lot of credibility and the test for us is to build off that credibility to create content that other people can use and that helps create a more environment-literate society. To me, that’s the model I would like to create and that I’m working for. We’re headed in that direction and I’m optimistic that we will get there, but that’s a much tougher nut to crack than just producing a publication.
One thing I’ve tried to avoid is saying, let’s just do a website and let people come to the website. You see environmental websites all over, and I’m not sure who looks at them. This gets back to the newsstand issue that we talked about before. You go to a newsstand and there are a lot of hook-and-bullet magazines and not very much environment stuff. I don’t think you can create a website and expect a lot of people with little or no interest in these issues to go look at it. You have to find mechanisms to take your story to people. That’s what we’re trying to do.
You recently did a readership survey. What did you learn about who’s reading the Bay Journal?