An update on HEATED
It's the last day before the paywall goes up. Here's what HEATED has accomplished in three short months.
My high school didn’t teach me what journalism was. Or maybe they did, and I just wasn’t listening.
Either way, I didn’t know what I was getting into when I signed up for my university’s “Journalism 1” course in the fall of 2008. I assumed—and this is true—it was a creative writing class about keeping a personal journal.
On the first day of class, a curmudgeonly former newspaperman from the Staten Island Advance named Rob Miraldi lectured about the importance of a free press to maintaining democracy. He told us that there were not three branches of government, but four—and the fourth branch, journalists, served as a check on all the others.
Without a strong, free, and independent press to call out the powerful out on their bullshit, Miraldi said, democracy would crumble. Those with power in government and society would use it for personal enrichment, rather than in public service. Journalists needed to speak truth to that power; to hold it accountable; and to ensure the public had the information it needed to vote the bastards out, should that be required. As long as the truth won out, he said, voters would be protected from tyranny.
That class, in other words, was not about keeping a personal diary. It was, however, one of the many inspirations for this newsletter. I launched it in part because I thought climate change journalism needed more of the Miraldi treatment: more information that afflicts the comfortable, and more trust in readers to act on that information.
It’s only been three months, but I think he’d be proud of what we’ve accomplished so far.
admin reveal: the author and her SUNY journalism friends in 2009.
HEATED’s accountability reporting is making a difference.
When I quit my job at The New Republic to create this publication, my biggest fear was that my reporting would have less of an impact if I didn’t have a big-name publication behind it.
I was wrong. I’ve had a far bigger impact in three months as an independent journalist than I’ve ever had working anywhere else. And I think that’s because this allows me to be laser-focused on accountability journalism.
You all have used that journalism to demand action. In September, for example, HEATED named the companies that were advertising on the Michael Knowles Show, which is hosted by a climate denier who called Greta Thunberg “mentally ill.” Following publication of that article and backlash, VistaPrint told HEATED it would not be advertising “on any upcoming episodes of the Michael Knowles podcast, now or in the future.”
Also, last month, HEATED published an investigation into how Twitter’s upcoming ad policy would benefit fossil fuel companies while harming climate advocacy groups. The piece sparked a national conversation about Twitter’s ad policy and climate change; was eventually tweeted by Senator Elizabeth Warren; and ultimately culminated in Twitter changing its ad policy. Greenpeace also launched a petition around it, which got more than 15,000 signatures.
And last week, after I published a piece revealing the extent of fossil fuel advertising in news media, I got an email from a woman named Nora at the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting. She said:
The December 13th HEATED connected lots of dots for us — discursive power and politics in communications and journalism, native ads, climate communications/messaging, etc.
I shared today's newsletter and hope it will promote introspection within our news organization and because it drives a lot of important points home that I think we hesitate to acknowledge overtly.
Of course, we haven’t moved the needle on everything. In October, for example, HEATED partnered with Judd Legum’s newsletter Popular Information to expose how some of the most outspoken eco-conscious corporation are still funding guaranteed climate inaction by supporting Mitch McConnell’s re-election. None of those supposedly green-loving corporations responded to our request for comment, and are all still funding McConnell’s re-election.
Also in October, I published a two-part investigation that revealed Amazon’s “recyclable” freezer bags that come with its Prime Now delivery orders aren’t actually recyclable at all. This sparked some widespread discussion on Twitter, but no action on the company’s part, as far as I can tell.
But I have faith that we’ll see more impact as HEATED grows, because there’s already a growing mainstream audience for this type of reporting, and it’s already being picked up and praised by some of the greats.
HEATED’s approach is helping shift the national climate conversation.
I launched HEATED in September because I though climate journalism needed more oomph—that is, more blatant recognition of the fact that climate change has become a crisis, and more blatant anger about the disinformation and delay behind it.
Turns out, other people like that message. And it’s spreading around in a way I never imagined. Here is some praise and validation this work has gotten:
During MSNBC’s presidential climate town hall, host and moderator Ali Velshi had me on to talk about how climate journalism should be more focused on holding the powerful accountable for disinformation. Velshi plugged the newsletter, and called me “One of the foremost climate journalists in the U.S.” (It was very nice, and I rolled my eyes like a jerk).
Vox called it “excellent.”
Earther called it “wonderful.”
Bill McKibben called it “Sharply insightful.”
Environmental Health News called it “[A] unique blend of insight and smart-ass.”
Cheddar called it “A great voice.”
Ayana Johnson, CEO of Ocean Collective, called it “Honest, actionable, and sassy.”
Harvard University, Columbia University, and Georgetown University have all invited me to speak about the newsletter.
(Sorry, the marketing Gods tell me I have to do this bragging shit if I want to grow the publication. Please forgive me!)
And here is the nicest Twitter shout-out about HEATED so far.
HEATED is making people feel better.
I like climate accountability journalism because it speaks truth to those with real power—media institutions, corporations, and governments—instead of shaming individuals.
Turns out, individuals like that too—and feel much better about fighting the climate crisis when they realize the world’s biggest problem doesn’t lie entirely on their shoulders.
The thing I’m most proud about accomplishing so far is creating this community, and hearing from you about what it’s meant to you. Last month, you might remember, I asked people to email me reasons why they enjoy or don’t enjoy HEATED. I got 111 responses, and complied them in this spreadsheet.
Out of 111 responses, 109 people said they liked the newsletter. But that wasn’t what I was most struck by. It was that out of 111 emails, six used the phrase “less alone” to describe how the newsletter’s tone made them feel.
“The reason I read your newsletter before I read anything else is simply that you are human, and even though we don't know each other, you make me feel a little less alone in this mess,” one reader said.
“Believing in climate change can feel isolating sometimes, but we're not alone in this fight, and your newsletter helps me remember that,” another said.
“Finally, your honest and frank tone is something I find very readable and relatable,” another reader said. “And it helps me feel less alone.”
I’ve been covering climate change for the last six years. And for the majority of that time, I’ve felt like I’ve been throwing gathered quotes into a void where no one hears them—and by extension, no one hears me.
All of which is to say, you all make me feel less alone, too.
HEATED is going to keep doing those things — and more!
I think a lot of reporters are really preoccupied with the question of how to make climate journalism for people who don’t want it—that is, how to cover climate change for a skeptical audience.
That’s all well and good, and I’m happy they’re doing that. But I don’t think journalists have yet figured out how to make good climate journalism for people who do want it. And that’s what I want to try to continue to do here.
So often, we assume that educating people who are already interested in climate change is just preaching to the choir. But this community has taught me that’s not true. Most people who are interested in climate change just don’t have the tools to talk about it confidently yet. The choir is there. They want to sing. But they don’t know the words.
I’m excited to keep building this choir and learning with you. But I can only do that with your support. Please, if you can, support this independent venture. I think it’s really doing something cool.
Fossil fuel ad of the day: Citgo after Hurricane Maria
Thanks to everyone who has submitted so far to the Fossil Fuel Ad Anthology, HEATED’s attempt to visualize the fossil fuel industry’s billion-dollar campaign to influence public opinion through advertising.
Here’s a Citgo ad submitted by a reader last week. It ran in the print edition of the New York Times in 2017, after Hurricane Maria ripped through Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm, causing nearly 3,000 deaths and $100 billion in damage. Hurricane Maria was the third-costliest storm in U.S. history—and scientists later published research finding the storm was made much worse by climate change.
The ad, in case you can’t read it, says:
With every fill-up, you’re helping rebuild lives.
Citgo is committed to helping our neighbors impacted by the historic devastation of the recent hurricanes. That’s why for the next three months, every time you fill up at Citgo, we will donate 1 cent from every gallon of fuel purchased — up to $8 million — toward rebuilding efforts. Thank you for joining us. Together, we’re Fueling Good. Together, we’re Rebuilding Lives.
Citgo is one of 21 fossil fuel companies currently being sued by the state of Rhode Island over claims that it knowingly contributed to climate change without warning people about the risks of the company’s products.
Have you seen a fossil fuel ad while reading the news, listening to your favorite podcast, walking through the airport, waiting for the bus, or in another place? Take a picture, record the audio, or take a video of it and email it to me: email@example.com.
OK, that’s all for today—thank for reading HEATED!
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Subscribers—see you tomorrow! The rest of you, see you next week!