You are the publisher of ecoRI News, a relatively new non-profit news outlet that reports on the environment and social justice issues in southern New England. You are headquartered in Providence. Can you give us an overview of your mission?
ecoRI News is dedicated to reporting on environmental and social justice issues in southern New England. Through our reporting, we create a more informed public and provide individuals with the information they need to be better stewards of their environment. Our reporting is free to all. No paywall ever.
You are also one of the co-founders. Tell us about the others and how ecoRI News came to be.
Unlike some of our peers, my husband Frank Carini and I didn’t have kids; we had a news website.
Frank and I met in the newsroom at Community Newspaper Company when I was a cub reporter for The Melrose Free Press and Frank was assistant managing editor for a group of other local weeklies.
When we began dating in the late 1990s, we dreamed of starting our own newspaper, but the startup costs for print were a barrier to entry. Then, in 2008, there was an explosion of digital newsrooms, and we thought, why not? The only startup costs would be web hosting and our sweat equity (we were unpaid volunteers of ecoRI News in the beginning, working three other jobs between us while we got the thing going).
Frank left his full-time job at The Newport Daily News and worked as a full-time substitute teacher in Fall River and as a vet tech at a Riverside animal hospital while I kept my full-time job at a design agency. In those early days, we published maybe one story a week.
Grant money proved difficult to secure in the early years, and so we launched a residential compost collection program in Providence to help pay for our journalism. The program brought in about $25,000. We also managed trash, food-scrap collection, and recycling at road races, which brought in another $5,000 to $8,000 per year.
Fast forward to today, and we’re primarily supported by reader donations and local foundations. (We sold the compost business in 2015.)
Frank and I started ecoRI News because we saw a need to report on climate change, the biggest issue of our time, and we believed the best way to do so was to report local news through the lens of the environment. The environment touches on so many other sectors: public health, equity, farming, energy, and nature.
How many staff editors and writers do you have on board? Can you name them and their duties?
We have five full-time staff. Our editor is Bonnie Philips; Frank Carini is our senior reporter and columnist, and Rob Smith and Colleen Cronin are reporters. Rob covers state agencies, the Statehouse and renewable energy, and Colleen, who is a Report for America fellow, covers transit, climate justice and rural environmental issues.
As the publisher, I do some reporting, but mostly, I do everything else: fundraising, operations management, IT, graphic design, marketing, social media management, bookkeeping, and event planning. That’s a long list of responsibilities, so we are currently trying to raise funds to hire someone to help me on the business side.
How often do you publish?
We publish 7-10 stories per week on the site, but most people read us via our two weekly newsletters, which go out to our 13,000 email subscribers every Tuesday and Friday.
Let’s get into some detail on ecoRI News’ areas of coverage. Please start with Climate Crisis.
Climate change is no longer up for debate. It is a fact of life, and we have already begun to experience climate disruption in the form of extreme weather events and coastal sea level rise. At ecoRI News, we talk to experts and residents alike about how they are adapting to some of the impacts of climate change we’re seeing in Rhode Island.
What about Climate & Social Justice?
Low-wealth communities and communities of color are most vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change. Individuals living in environmental justice zones are exposed to more water and air pollution, are more prone to heat-island effects, and face food insecurity. Justice and equity must be woven into environmental solutions if we are to tackle climate change.
Food & Farming?
Farmland in Rhode Island is some of the costliest in the country. Rhode Island only produces about 5% of the food it consumes. Since 1945, Rhode Island has lost some 80% of its farmland to development. In addition, the state has the highest-priced farmland in the country, at $17,500 an acre, according to the USDA. The national average is $3,800.
Rhode Island has set some ambitious goals for growing more local food, both to meet climate goals and to increase local food security. Our reporting strives to showcase what’s working and what’s not.
Government? You play a watchdog and advocacy role, correct?
We report on and watchdog government and government agencies such as Department of Environmental Management, Coastal Resources Management Council, and Rhode Island Department of Transportation.
As a news organization we do not advocate for policy.
How about Public Health & Recreation?
Public health and the environment are intertwined. Hotter summers, poor water-quality, and pollution all impact public health as well as the environment. We aim to provide context to our readers about public-health challenges and solutions.
Currently about 3,800 tons of trash are buried in the Rhode Island’s landfill each day. At current loading rates the Central Landfill will reach capacity in 2040. Increasingly, we must look at waste diversion tactics — reuse and composting — to reduce the amount of waste going to the landfill. We report on many of these initiatives, and we take a hard look at the drawbacks of recycling.
Wildlife & Nature?
To be a good steward of our environment, we need to know what is at stake and what we are protecting. To that end, we bring our readers reporting about the state’s wild places and wildlife. These kinds of stories tend to resonate with readers and are some of the most popular.
With many traditional media outlets downsizing or disappearing, what role in journalism do you foresee outlets like yours (and Ocean State Stories!) playing?
The downsizing of mainstream local media outlets has been an ongoing tragedy, but it has also created an opportunity for smaller outlets like ecoRI News and Ocean State Stories to fill in the gap.
You have been one of the leaders in the establishment of the Alliance of Nonprofit News Outlets (ANNO), which Ocean State Stories was pleased to join. Give us an overview of ANNO.
As the local news sector continues to face outsized economic headwinds, ecoRI News and 16 other nonprofit newsrooms from across the country founded the Alliance of Nonprofit News Organizations (ANNO) to pressure large national foundations that purport to care about the local news crisis to act — with direct aid to the small local newsrooms performing the journalism they claim they to want to save.
Since our founding, we and many other small nonprofit newsrooms have been turned away from these big national journalism foundations. We are simply too small, we are told, to qualify for grant support. Many of these foundations only extend funding to organizations with budgets above $500,000 — sometimes the threshold is $1 million. It has been discouraging to hear these foundations talk about the urgency of the local news crisis as they leave small newsrooms to flounder.
This all could change. Maybe. Many of you who are media wonks have likely read or heard about an initiative called Press Forward, a national enterprise to strengthen journalism with an infusion of more than a half-billion dollars over the next five years. This is, of course, welcome news, but as the publisher of a small nonprofit newsroom, I am skeptical these funds will trickle down to ecoRI News and other small newsrooms like Ocean State Stories. This is why ANNO is so important.
And finally, tell us a bit about your background in journalism.
Some of my earliest memories are of my dad sitting with a newspaper in front of his face. As a child of three or four, I could not understand how this broadsheet full of tiny words could be more interesting to him than I. I’d sometimes punch the newspaper right below the fold, where my jab could reach, just to get attention.
In eighth grade, I wrote a research paper about Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair, and the Muckrakers of the early 1900s. That’s when I caught the journalism bug. In high school and college, I worked for my school papers as a writer and a cartoonist.
After serving as an intern at CNN’s Washington bureau during the 1996 presidential election, I got my first newspaper job at a local community newspaper in Melrose, Mass. I am a true believer in the power of journalism, and that is why it pains me to see the industry so hobbled.
ecoRI News is a publication partner of Ocean State Stories.