“Will Work in Copenhagen”

SEJ launches freelancers’ board for climate meeting

The United Nations climate change summit in Copenhagen this December will undoubtedly be an international media circus of the highest order. Many of the journalists there will be wandering bards, however, reciting tales on the spot for anyone willing to listen or, God willing, pay them.

In an effort to assist those lone travelers, as well as news outlets that need help covering the summit, the Society of Environmental Journalists has created a page on its Web site listing available freelancers, many of who will attend regardless. The service, called The Copenhagen Connection, is open to society members and non-members alike.

“It was inspired by a newspaper editor I know asking me last week for a reference on an SEJ member who had contacted him directly,” society board member and Baltimore Sun reporter Tim Wheeler wrote in an e-mail. “After that, I posted on [the society’s e-mail list] asking if there was much interest in a ‘job-wanted’ board focused on boosting coverage of the Copenhagen summit. After a flurry of positive responses, we set up the simple Web listing you see.”

At press time, fifteen journalists had posted their contact information, qualifications, and availability, and the list appeared to be growing. The page notes that the Society of Environmental Journalists “provides this listing as a public service to promote more coverage of this important issue, but it does not constitute a recommendation of those listed.” But the list already comprises many experienced freelancers, as well staffers and columnists for publications like Scientific American and The Washington Post.

“[It’s] hard to know how many, if any, editors/news directors will climb out of their financial foxholes and try this inexpensive way to provide their audiences with news about an international event that could affect their local communities,” Wheeler wrote in his e-mail. But some are clearly thinking about it.

David Ledford, the editor of the News Journal in Wilmington, Delaware who inspired Wheeler to create the listing, is currently negotiating a contract with a freelance reporter.

“[We] hope to secure a deal that we can afford, a deal that will help the journalist pay his freight to Copenhagen,” Ledford wrote in an e-mail. “To make that more palatable, I am now inquiring of other [newspaper] editors if they’re interested in helping us pay the freelancer’s fee. That would have the added benefit of widening the footprint of the freelancer’s work.”

Since hearing about the listing, Wheeler says, two other editors—one at a print magazine focused on the environment, another at an online news outlet—have contacted him to say that they’re thinking about “augmenting” their Copenhagen coverage with freelance work.

“The job posting is an excellent way for editors nationwide to learn about the ranks of qualified pros available to do freelance work in Copenhagen,” Ledford—who has made environmental coverage a priority at the News Journal—wrote in his e-mail. “There is an appetite for quality reportage outside the policy debates, which will be thoroughly covered by the Associated Press and other wire services. So this looks like a win-win for good science writers able to travel to Denmark and for newspapers and television stations looking for layered coverage that helps readers see better the effects of climate change worldwide.”

Although he did not find them through the new listing, Bud Ward, the editor of The Yale Forum on Climate Change & The Media, says that he is working with small pool of freelancers. They include a photojournalist, a children’s book author, a multi-media environmental journalist, a Yale masters-degree student with substantial reporting experience, a Washington Post blogger, and a veteran radio journalist. Ward is not paying for their travel, but helping out with other expenses in return for coverage.

Freelancers will have a lot of competition at the climate summit. The Associated Press is sending at least five veteran reporters to Copenhagen. The New York Times is also sending five. Energy & Environment Publishing, which runs Greenwire and ClimateWire and contributes to the Times, will send two people. Mother Jones will have three correspondents at the summit who may team up with colleagues from Grist, Slate, The Atlantic, Wired, ProPublica, and the Center for Investigative Reporting.

Still, there will be plenty to cover at the multi-ring circus, from negotiations in the main tent to myriad sideshow demonstrations. Editors and publishers who think that their coverage plan may be a little light would do well to check out The Copenhagen Connection and think about adding whatever freelance work they can.

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