Momentum becomes Ensia

Univ. of Minnesota expands its environmental magazine

A nonprofit environmental magazine published by the University of Minnesota that’s been quietly racking up awards for three years is moving on to bigger and bolder things.

On Tuesday, the university announced that Momentum, a thrice yearly publication launched in fall 2008, will now be called Ensia, and that with the new name comes a sleek new website designed to meet “a growing demand for trusted, solution-focused communication about environmental topics.”

The online expansion, made possible by a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (which supports environmental conservation) and funding from private donors, will allow a tenfold increase in the amount of content produced annually, according to Todd Reubold, Ensia’s director and founding editor.

Momentum had a website, but we mainly repurposed what we did in print and placed it online,” he said. “So, we wanted to create this Web presence in order to reach an even larger national audience, and hopefully, in the long term, a global audience.”

The new site is sharp, relying on “responsive Web design,” a technique that more and more news outlets are deploying to create pages that are easy to use and that will look nice on any computer, tablet, or smartphone. With easy-to-navigate topic categories (business, culture, water, etc.) and content sections (articles, interviews, videos, etc.), Ensia is a fitting vessel for the type of top-notch content that the outlet is used to producing.

Published by the university’s Institute on the Environment, Momentum was anything but a dry, academic journal, and while the focus was solutions to complex environmental problems (from climate change to world hunger), it eschewed advocacy in favor of impartial reporting. In fact, Momentum carried the work of some of the country’s best science and environmental journalists, including Hillary Rosner, David Biello, Emily Gertz, and Brandon Keim, and won a slew of awards in the process. In 2012, it took home six prizes at the annual Minnesota Magazine and Publishing Association ceremony, including four gold medals for best overall design, single-topic issue, editor’s letter, and technical article.

Keeping the same focus and publisher, Ensia (“environmental solutions in action”) hopes to expand on that success, according to editor-in-chief Mary Hoff. “We’ll be looking at stories that aren’t being told in other places, either because they’re just emerging or because they’ve been flying under the radar,” she said, “and we’re really going to count on our large network of experts and freelancers to find those stories and bring them to us, so that we can share them with others.”

If that’s the case, the new site is off to a good start. Reubold said he’s particularly excited about a new section called Voices, which is designed to showcase established environmental leaders as well as less visible characters from the news media, the business world, government, nonprofits, and elsewhere. The section currently features interesting op-eds, including, “Obama: Stealth Climate Warrior?”, by Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment, and “Deep Green Investing—A closer look at what Bill McKibben’s divestment strategy means for you and me,” by freelance journalist Marc Gunther.

Elsewhere on the site, there are terrific features about the impact of ocean acidification on sea life by Elizabeth Grossman, and employing “biomimicry” in the design of urban infrastructure by Nate Berg. Both pieces are slated for the inaugural print issue of Ensia (the latter as the cover), which comes out next week. Other writers will include futurist Jamais Cascio, renewable energy expert Peggy Liu, author Maggie Koerth-Baker, and economist Gernot Wagner.

Ensia already has a number of media partners, from Forbes to The Aspen Institute, and is actively seeking more. The main idea is to co-produce and co-publish articles, akin to what ProPublica and other successful nonprofits have done, Reubold said, although the type of partnership will vary.

In addition to the magazine and website, Ensia will also continue the speakers series that started under Momentum, with three guests lined up for the spring. But these mostly reach a local and regional audience, Reubold, and in keeping with the expansion, the long-term plan is launch a series of multiday events that draw national and international participation.

I wish them well. With mainstreams outlets giving short shrift to coverage of the environment, it’s nice to see an alternative news source, especially one with such a strong track record, expanding.

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Curtis Brainard writes on science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard. Tags: , , , , , ,