A new ‘micro-publication’ for deep environmental and tech reporting

Climate Confidential needs 800 subscribers by March 6 to come to fruition

A group of freelance reporters are on a mission to produce a new kind of science journalism. Called Climate Confidential, the planned digital outlet is an entrepreneurial effort by six veteran journalists to “unravel fact from fiction and innovation from repetition,” in environmental and technology writing.

Unlike other journalists starting their own news sites, Climate Confidential will be the first micro-publication to be hosted on Beacon Reader, a new platform that publishes original content by veteran writers, based on a $5 monthly subscription model. First though, they’ll need to raise money from at least 800 readers by March 6. As of Sunday evening, the project has raised $15,425 from 382 backers.

“We have a lot of really great ideas for amazing stories, so I really hope that we get to execute them,” said Erica Gies, one of the journalists behind the project.

Besides Gies, the group, all San Francisco-based, includes Celeste LeCompte, Josie Garthwaite, Mary Catherine O’Connor, Ucilia Wang, and Amy Westervelt. Collectively, they have decades of experience covering science and technology in publications including The New York Times, The Economist, Forbes, and The Wall Street Journal.

If funded, Climate Confidential will offer weekly, in-depth articles on topics like renewable energy, the effects of chemicals on human health, and the future of transportation. The founders would start by publishing one story a week that provides context and analysis on an issue, like the hidden costs of energy technologies. They’ll consider expanding in the future, possibly to include work from other reporters, as well as videos and photos.

The founders note that their work will be “completely independent.” The group is excited about the editorial freedom the platform will allow them—something they say freelance journalists don’t always have.

“We get to decide what we think is important and what we want to run,” said Gies, who covers water and energy. “I think all of us have had experiences where we’ve found stories that we think are really interesting and compelling, and for whatever reason were not able find the editor or publication that also thinks it’s compelling in that moment.”

In 2011, Gies co-founded another science news outlet, This Week in Earth, which no longer gets updated. She said it was difficult to manage both the site and the content. This time, Gies and her fellow co-founders can focus on their stories without having to worry about the website—Beacon takes care of Web hosting in exchange for 25 percent of subscription revenues.

Until now, Beacon had only hosted work by individual writers, using the same subscription model. Co-founder Adrian Sanders said that for Beacon, the move to a micro-publication is a logical one.

“Climate Confidential wanted to be grouped thematically, because by combining their expertise, they could deliver a more compelling product and get more subscribers,” he said.

Though only subscribers will be able to read Climate Confidential’s stories, they will also get an added bonus—access to all of the content on Beacon, which includes work by over 70 writers. While the subscription model potentially limits the reach, Mary Catherine O’Connor, who writes about the impact of energy technologies, said it can be tough for freelance science writers to get to large audiences through other publications.

“The ability to reach a wider audience is more difficult than it was [a few] years ago,” O’Connor said, mentioning the end of the New York Times’ Green Blog last year. “The model behind journalism is changing, and we’re trying to find new ways to reach readers.”

Part of that is engaging with readers—subscribers will have the opportunity to ask questions and offer input on topics they’d like to see covered. The writers promise to “drop the hardboiled reporter act and add some fun to the mix” with offline salon events every few months for those who donate.

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Nicola Pring is a CJR intern