"This was always about power and control."
What CAP gave up when it killed ThinkProgress.
Welcome to HEATED, a daily newsletter for people who are pissed off about the climate crisis—written by me, former ThinkProgress reporter Emily Atkin.
Today’s issue is about how one of the most powerful liberal think tanks in America spent 14 years building up one of the most valuable independent climate news websites in existence, only to shut it down right at the moment the planet needed it most, because apparently it just ~wasn’t making enough money~.
It’s also about the future of ClimateProgress (that’s the website I’m talking about) and how its founder is trying to revive it.
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CAP AND SHADE
Since 2005, the Democratic Party-aligned non-profit Center for American Progress—or CAP, as it’s better known—has owned an independent news website called ThinkProgress. Since 2006, ThinkProgress has housed a climate section, called ClimateProgress. For many years, these outlets were some of the internet’s most influential sources of progressive journalism.
But they’re not anymore. Because on Friday, CAP shut ThinkProgress down, laying off its entire unionized newsroom with it.
CAP said it needed to kill ThinkProgress because it was losing money. And it’s true—the site was “bleeding cash.”
But that excuse was called pretty heavily into question on Monday. Just three days after the mass layoffs, CAP’s senior vice president Navin Nayak announced that CAP would actually be re-launching ThinkProgress as a policy news and analysis site. Same thing as before, pretty much; just, you know, without all those independent, unionized reporters. (Related: hire these journalists).
On Monday night, the union representing ThinkProgress’s writers came out with a scathing statement in response to CAP’s decision. “CAP has repeatedly said that the decision to shut down ThinkProgress was a financial one made in light of larger industry struggles,” it read. “But ThinkProgress was not founded to be profitable. We now know this was never about money. This was always about power and control.”
And the reason I’m telling you all this is because I think it’s important to see how the struggle for power and control just unnecessarily fucked up one of our best tools to solve the climate crisis.
In the climate fight, information is power.
ClimateProgress has always been a leading provider of factual information about the climate crisis: What it’s doing to people and ecosystems now; what it’s expected to do in the future; and why it’s taken us so long to do anything about it.
I’m biased, of course. I worked at ThinkProgress for 3 years, and ClimateProgress was my first climate journalism job. But I can say objectively that ClimateProgress took the issue seriously when few other mainstream outlets did.
When I was hired in 2013, The New York Times had just cancelled its Green blog and dismantled its nine-person environmental team, and NPR was preparing to lay off its entire four-person environmental desk. I, on the other hand, joined a thriving climate desk with five reporters and two editors.
In my first year as a climate reporter at ThinkProgress, pretty much all I did was fact-check misinformation. It was annoying, to be honest. But it helped me see clearly why it’s taken society so long to accept the dire nature of the climate crisis. The decades-long misinformation campaign about climate science waged by the fossil fuel industry and its backers has been relentless.
When Joe Romm launched ClimateProgress in 2006—the same year An Inconvenient Truth was released—his mission was to expose that campaign. “My goal always when I was at ClimateProgress was to write stories with the understanding that the science is real, and to write from a perspective of what future generations would think as the news came out,” he told me on the phone on Monday.
Unfortunately, that campaign won’t continue at CAP, a non-profit that is “dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans, through bold, progressive ideas, as well as strong leadership and concerted action.” It was too expensive!
I’m sure future generations will probably understand.
The good news
CAP may be shutting down ThinkProgress, and it may have fired its remaining climate reporters. But it also isn’t retaining ownership of the ClimateProgress website, branding, social media accounts, or content. It’s selling it all back to Romm.
Romm wouldn’t say how much he’s paying CAP for the site he founded. But “It’s fair,” he said. And while contract terms are still being finalized, Romm added, “I couldn’t be happier with this outcome.”
Romm said he intends to continue the ClimateProgress brand under his new venture, Front Page Live—a sort of progressive alternative to The Drudge Report. With some fundraising, he said, he hopes he’ll be able to hire a staff. Perhaps the reporters who were laid off; who knows.
On a happier note…
I wore a spaghetti strapped, floral jumpsuit on millennial television yesterday to talk about the newsletter, because I’m my own boss now and I can do what I want!
Watch the segment here.
OK, that’s all for now—thanks so much for reading HEATED! If you liked it, hated it, or want to pitch me a story idea, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
See you tomorrow!