Our Backstory, Briefly
Inside Climate News launched in October 2007 with a two-person team and a little bit of pilot funding. We were working from a sublet room in a law firm, and the day we went live, our website logged 102 pageviews. The second day, it had 53.
Today we have a team of 20 staffers and an annual budget of $2.8 million. We serve as many as 750,000 pageviews a month on our own site and an equal number through co-publication. We partner with dozens of other news organizations, large and small, who value our expertise. We’ve built the largest dedicated climate newsroom in the country, if not the world.
We’ve published thousands of stories, released investigations that have permanently changed the national conversation, and won dozens of awards including a Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting.
Our Next Decade
Over the first decade of our existence, we built a national news organization that filled a critical gap in reporting on climate change, during a time when the number of journalists working at newspapers declined by half. The nation’s policymakers and the media hardly talked about climate change for many crucial years, but we did, and now national coverage is finally more robust.
The work of our next decade is aimed at filling another critical gap, the one that has opened as a result of the rapid and alarming demise of local journalism.
In 2018 we started building a local environment reporting network to address this accelerating crisis. We’ve already opened four regional hubs. We work in partnership with dozens of local news outlets to encourage and support their environmental reporting. We also reach new audiences on our own. Our goal is to provide a vital and fundamental civic service, to inform underserved readers with accurate and balanced news about the climate crisis afflicting their daily lives.
No matter what happens to the local media landscape, now being dealt yet another blow by the coronavirus, we will be poised to respond to evolving needs in the years ahead.
Balancing Our Resources
It has been our irresistible habit since our founding in 2007 to invest almost all of our resources in our journalism at every opportunity. As a result, we have built a remarkable team of reporters and editors and achieved notable success, but we have now reached an impasse.
Only two of us work to secure the revenue needed for operations. It’s imperative that we correct this imbalance to secure our future. Here’s a snapshot of how we will accomplish this over the next five years.
Our Unique Editorial Value
Our work is independent and non-partisan. What makes it unique? We asked ourselves this question at a staff retreat, and distilled what we do into four editorial imperatives.
1. Expose the big lie
Climate science has been the target of one of the longest, most expensive and most consequential campaign of deliberate misinformation in history. As a result, the public is confused. Political discourse has been polarized. A meaningful policy response to the environmental crisis has been thwarted for four decades. Exposing the big lie, a vital public service, is top of mind in our newsroom, and the signature of some our most impactful and celebrated work.
2. Illuminate our vulnerability and environmental injustice
Climate impacts are arriving faster and with more intensity than expected, disproportionately affecting communities of color. We cover the accelerating story to illuminate the science and warn the public of imminent dangers and long-term consequences. We are also adding staff to strengthen ICN’s coverage of the burden of climate and environmental harm borne by vulnerable populations.
3. Steer the conversation towards solutions
Solutions to the climate crisis are within reach, be they technological solutions or policy prescriptions, things that work in the real world. Surrounded by gloomy and frightening news, we report on evidence of progress and possibility.
4. Reach beyond the echo chamber
This is perhaps the most challenging and rewarding kind of work we do. We build bridges to new readers who otherwise would be without access to accurate, non-partisan climate information. By provoking civil conversations and healthy debate, we also hear new things, instead of the constant echo of what we already know, and we are able to tell important new stories.
Our Competitive Advantage
As a non-profit, we give away our journalism. By doing so, we have turned “free” into a competitive advantage. Our journalism can reach anyone, anywhere, and starts a virtuous circle turning.
Our readers become subscribers. Then many of them become donors, who fund more journalism, which we give away, attracting more readers. The more our work gets published, the more readers we get. The more readers we get, the more subscribers we sign up, who become donors, and the virtuous circle keeps turning.
Our readers have consistently demonstrated their passionate concern about the climate crisis and a willingness to support our journalism. Currently we convert almost 7% of our subscribers into donors.
Their donations allow us to fill an urgent public need. We can afford to give away our journalism to partners in local markets for co-publication, and to train, mentor and work together with them. We have no competitors, only collaborators.
By contrast, our primary competitors are large for-profit entities with paywalls. They do not have a public service mission, where one is desperately needed, one that only ICN, at the moment, can fill.
We believe the horsepower of this competitive advantage and financial engine will only become stronger as the climate crisis deepens in the years ahead, and the demand and need for our work accelerates. It is already starting to happen. Data we examined for January 2021 show that during each week of the month, we logged more than 1,000 new subscribers, a rate we have never before witnessed.
Plan of Action
Over the next five years, we are charting a path towards sustainability with the following five-point plan of action. The plan will build organizational capacity, diversify our revenue streams and establish an enduring financial model to serve our journalistic mission far into the future.
1. Increase our institutional capacity
At every opportunity since its founding, ICN has invested in journalism: in award-winning reporters, intensive investigations, regional reporting hubs, and training for high school students. Twelve years in, ICN is 20 people strong and 18 of them are editorial staffers. Now we must invest in staff capacity to generate revenue from diverse sources. We have a plan to create four new jobs and increase this capacity to 6 FTEs by 2025, correcting our institutional imbalance.
2. Grow online revenue from readers
In 2020, 12 percent of our revenue came from online donors. We have a plan to secure 25 percent of our funding from online donors by 2025. Coupled with a social media and marketing effort is a strategy to make consistent and substantial annual investments in reader acquisition. Our goal is to fill our pipeline with subscribers as rapidly as possible.
3. Build a pool of major donors
In 2020, 6 percent of our revenue came from major donors. Our plan is to secure 35 percent of our revenue from major donors by 2025. To succeed, we will hire two major gifts officers: one in New York, another in California. This capacity is part of the staffing of almost any established non-profit, a capacity that we will build here.
4. Diversify foundation support
Foundations will continue to provide critical funding for our organization. In 2020, 82 percent of our revenue came from institutional donors. Our plan is to reduce the percentage to 40 percent by 2025 while slightly increasing the current gross amount of institutional funding. We will expand the current base of support and secure new foundations, particularly at the local level, through the addition of a grants officer to our team.
5. Strengthen our board of directors
InsideClimate News has a dedicated board of directors comprised of ten individuals. ICN will continue to grow the board by adding new directors committed to strengthening our newsroom and its long-term health.
The spreadsheet below is the financial roadmap of ICN’s path to sustainability. It shows the steps we plan to take, year over year, to increase the contribution of major gifts and online donations to our revenue stream. Our goal is to make foundation support, currently accounting for 82% of revenue, account for 40% of revenue by 2025, with the balance supplied by major donors (35%) and online donors (25%).
Investments in staffing to build development capacity, and in reader acquisition strategies, will allow us to execute this plan. The end result is a growing revenue reserve on the bottom line, a robust ROI that will power our journalism indefinitely into the future.
Continue to the ICN Impact Analysis
For more information, please contact:
Founder & Publisher
Director of Development & Marketing