InsideClimate News has an annual budget of roughly US$550,000, four-fifths of which goes to staff. The rest pays for travel, Internet services and other expenses.
The organization is an outgrowth of Sassoon’s consulting work for the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, a philanthropic group that emphasizes climate policy. Initially, it was a blog called Solve Climate News, which collected news links from elsewhere and added a bit of commentary — a tried and true formula for many new blogs.
For a while “we were chasing traffic,” Sassoon said, sheepishly, but the site soon got serious.
“We started to do our own original journalism rather than derivative stuff,” he said, and renamed it InsideClimate News.
Rockefeller was joined by the Marisla Foundation. Charitable groups have not traditionally financed news media.
“They would rather be funding, you know, direct advocates of the causes they care about,” Sassoon said.
His pitch boiled down to this: “If you care about environmental issues, you need to support a robust press that can cover these issues because, well, it’s disappearing.”
Invoking the climate trends that worry so many scientists, he said of the scant coverage in the news media, “It’s a parallel crisis.”
InsideClimate’s newest backer is the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment.
Some observers suggested that the Pulitzer was a statement of sorts by the five judges that selected the national reporting winner — a way to support both aggressive coverage of the subject matter and the thrifty way InsideClimate News goes about it. At least two other nonprofit sites are dedicated to climate coverage, The Daily Climate and Climate Central.
“The message that’s being sent here is, Keep it up guys. You can compete with the big shots,” Fagin said.
The prizewinning project by Song and her colleagues was the site’s most ambitious to date. It documented what it called “the biggest oil spill you’ve never heard of,” a 2010 spill in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River that was overshadowed by the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico that same year. The kind of oil in Kalamazoo was a substance called dilbit; the same kind has been identified in a spill in Arkansas, where an Exxon pipeline ruptured late last month.
“Very few were truly covering it,” Sassoon said.
So Song was sent there, and she became the subject of media attention after being threatened with arrest at a command center.
Those travel costs add up. So do staff costs, and Sassoon is hopeful that the Pulitzer news this week will help the Web site raise more funds so he can hire more writers and editors.
He even has ambitions for an actual newsroom.