This is a pivotal time for both the environment and journalism. Climate change, energy transitions, resource conflicts and a host of other environmental issues are increasingly prominent in the news and in the forums of policy makers. The need for robust, engaging, well-disseminated environmental news reporting has never been more important, and will grow even more critical in the coming decades.
Energizing as it is to be covering the environmental issues at this critical time, the work has never been more challenging, as the news media landscape undergoes tectonic change. Many longtime, once-formidable news organizations have been perilously weakened by the loss of advertising and audience. Some newspapers are in bankruptcy, and some are shuttered for good. Television and radio newsrooms have made drastic cuts in editorial staff and resources. Magazines continue to fold.
The beat system of reporting is under siege, and many news outlets have scrapped, or over-burdened, their dedicated environment reporter. Travel and training funds are scarce.
Amid the chaos and decline of many mainstream news organizations, new outlets for serious investigative and explanatory journalism are springing up, exploring innovative ways to report and present stories and engage the public. They offer hope that meaningful journalism can survive the current upheaval and perhaps enjoy a renaissance in new forms of media. Yet the startups’ long-term sustainability remains to be seen, as they struggle to forge viable business models. With mainstream and new media alike unable to offer living wages to many journalists, or even to pay much for freelance work, journalists determined to cover environment-related issues, either on staff or as an independent, face tough times indeed.
Environmental coverage stands to lose ground just when our communities need it most.
The Fund for Environmental Journalism
In response to these factors, the Board of Directors  of the Society of Environmental Journalists decided in October 2009 to create the Fund for Environmental Journalism (FEJ). Its purpose is to provide incentives and support to qualified journalists and news organizations to enhance the quantity and quality of environmental journalism reaching mass audiences in the United States, Mexico and Canada (since expanded to global audiences).
At its January 2010 meeting, the SEJ board allocated $10,000 to launch the FEJ. Individual donations totalling more than $5,000 in 2010 allowed SEJ to increase overall disbursement for the first year of the Fund. We have been able to raise the bar even higher in subsequent rounds due to generous grants from the Grantham Foundation, Cornelius King Foundation, Heinz Endowments, and additional gifts from friends of SEJ. We are constantly working to increase the number of contributors to this important program.
Program Management and Policies
SEJ will consider requests for funding of up to $3,500 for authorized expenses of environmental journalism projects and entrepreneurial ventures. SEJ headquarters staff will support the project in managing the online submissions system, gathering support materials, managing the judging process, notifying applicants of decisions, creating and co-signing agreements with winners, maintaining confidentiality policies with all SEJ personnel, and following up with winners on reporting requirements at the proper time.
In disbursing funds to winning applicants SEJ will not take on the relationship of employer or project supervisor. SEJ will not retain rights to published works or expect royalties. However, awarding of FEJ grants is conditional upon SEJ being granted permission to electronically link to, or re-publish work supported in part by the FEJ. Winning applicants and/or the publisher/rights-holder must co-sign a letter of understanding with SEJ on these and other legal points and agree to provide a brief report on use of the funds upon completion of the project or within 12 months of receipt of the grant, whichever is sooner. Winners also must be prepared to document the use of funds with paid invoices and sales receipts reflecting authorized categories of expense.
All SEJ personnel involved with this program will maintain strict confidentiality with regard to the content of all submissions. Unless written permission is provided by a grantee, public announcements about winning entries will be limited to the names of the winners and amounts awarded until the project is completed and published.
SEJ usually accepts submissions twice each year. The application deadline for the Summer Cycle is July 15th. The Winter Cycle application deadline is November 15th. Winners are announced approximately 60 days following the deadline. Winners must submit their partial or finished project, including a report on the use of the grant, within one year of receipt of a grant.
FEJ received initial funding from SEJ’s general operating budget followed by generous foundation grants in 2011, 2012 and 2013. SEJ will continue to solicit individual gifts and grants in support of the project. SEJ may not accept FEJ funding linked to coverage of specific issues but may accept funding for projects focusing on specific regions. SEJ will otherwise make no promises to FEJ donors other than disclosure of the names of grantees and an accounting of how their funds were spent.
Authorized Categories of Expense
Funds disbursed from the FEJ may be used for project-relevant travel, training (such as fees for workshops or business planning for news entrepreneurs), research materials, database analysis, and other direct expenses required for success of the reporting project or entrepreneurial venture.
FEJ cannot underwrite personnel time of the applicant but will consider requests for funding to pay for professional services of project-related consultants, such as graphic designers, website developers, or legal services.
Funds may not be used to reimburse expenses on a project; only expenses projected to be incurred after receipt of a grant will be considered.
Any journalist working independently or on the staff of either a for-profit or nonprofit news organization is eligible to apply for an FEJ grant. Please note: there is a one-year blackout on eligibility following SEJ board service or staff/contractor (employed more than 10 hrs per month for one month or more) affiliation.
SEJ membership is not required to apply for an FEJ grant, but all applicants must be qualified to be SEJ members. To determine eligibility for SEJ membership, see membership criteria . (Please note: disqualifiers include paid employment in public relations, media relations or lobbying on environment-related issues.)
There is a $40 fee to apply for an FEJ grant, which will be waived for SEJ members (new members pay first-year dues of $40).
Individuals are limited to one award from the FEJ within any 12-month period.
Criteria for Selection
Please note: A budget showing a potential FEJ grant in the context of ALL projected income and expenses for the ENTIRE project is required. A project timeline, reporting plan, and roles and qualifications of the team are required. In addition, distribution prospects, especially firm commitments for airing or publishing funded work, and the target audience, are heavily weighted in the review process.
Environmental journalism projects or entrepreneurial ventures will be selected for FEJ funding with attention to the following questions:
· What is the news value of the project or venture including its topic and the importance of that topic to the community the work will inform?
· Does the project make an original, leadership-quality contribution to the field of environmental journalism?
· How strong is the publication/dissemination plan for the completed work?
· How strong is the applicant’s case that their work will be significantly enabled and improved through support from the FEJ?
· How strong is the connection between the proposed expense (i.e., travel plan, training plan, consulting expense) and the quality or quantity of eventual environmental journalism outputs?
· What are the qualifications and track record of the applicant?
Additional criteria include: how far along the project is; the scope of the project relative to the budget requested and available; whether FEJ would be the sole funder; and the potential reach of the finished project.
Applicants must provide the following information:
· Full contact information for the primary contact person for the project, including name, news organization (if affiliated), address, phone, FAX, email, website, etc.;
· Amount requested;
· A project description and case for support (3 pages maximum is preferred);
· Qualifications of applicant and any team members;
· A full project budget including the portion proposed for FEJ support; and
· A resume and any other relevant supplemental materials to help make the case, including work samples, links to work, letters of commitment from assigning editors, letters of support, etc.