This was a year of painful and powerful change.
On Jan. 20 Donald Trump ascended to the U.S. presidency, bringing with him a regressive collection of anti-environmental ideas and a right-wing crew of industry insiders and billionaires to help execute them.
That was a pretty awful day, but I remember watching the inauguration and knowing that I would soon be in a position to help do something about it.
Just three days later the small staff of what would become The Revelator — made up of myself and investigative journalist John Dougherty — reported for duty. Spurred by Trump’s election, the Center for Biological Diversity had set out to create a new kind of independent environmental news site. Our goals were simple and not-so-simple: stand up against the administration and stand for the environment and the species and people who depend on it. It would be a site to promote transparency, to tell stories that other publications were missing and to investigate truths no one else was uncovering.
We didn’t give ourselves an easy task. It took a few months to pull things together, design the website and start our reporting. But once we launched on May 17 we immediately began a journey that took us to some pretty wild places. We covered Trump’s assaults against Bears Ears and other national monuments; the environmental disaster of his proposed border wall; his push to drill for oil off the Atlantic coast; the administration’s attacks on public funding of science; the attempts to dismantle the EPA; and a whole lot more.
All of this work presented some…challenges. From the moment this administration took office, officials either stopped talking to the media or did so only under duress — or with the knowledge that it could cost them their jobs. This isn’t universal, of course. Many people in the government are still incredibly helpful to journalists, but finding these sources becomes harder and harder.
But we pressed on. We talked to the people affected by these proposed changes, as well as the experts who told us how many of them probably won’t stand up in a court of law. We dug into documents to reveal things the administration or tight-lipped corporations weren’t telling us. We looked back at history to show us the potential implications of what’s happening now. And we looked at some possible solutions that could outlast the Trump administration, no matter what they end up doing.
And of course, we looked beyond the world of Trump, with articles about endangered species, climate change, pollution, unsafe oil companies and the Bundy trial. We ran essays and op-eds that challenged readers to consider different approaches. We talked about the books and the arts — vital places to generate new ideas for resilience and resistance. We also started a series of graphic data stories that presented difficult issues in new and interesting ways. I like to think we stood out in our coverage of all of these issues, often tackling stories that no other environmental news sources touched.
Throughout it all we asked tough questions, which remains at the heart of everything we do.
And our readers, thankfully, responded. A few weeks ago we celebrated our first million unique page views, and our daily readership continues to climb. Our articles have been reprinted in nearly a dozen other publications. More and more people are following us on Twitter and Facebook. We received a lot of nice letters — and more than a little bit of hate mail, but that just tells me we’re doing something right.
Of course, we stumbled a bit along the way, as every startup does. Our website had some bugs at first, which took a couple of months to correct. Our lack of name recognition in the early days slowed our ability to talk to sources and to attract top essay-writers, something that’s now turning around. Our attempt at a semi-daily aggregation feature, “The Dose,” didn’t really click, so we rightfully reassigned our resources to bigger and better articles (we still hope to revisit that idea, though). And it took forever to find the time to launch our weekly email newsletter, but that’s chugging along nicely now, with more subscribers joining every day.
There were also some frustrations, but only because we couldn’t do more. A staff our size can only write and publish so much, but we did bring you nearly 180 articles this year, so we’re pretty happy with that.
Next year we’ll do even more. Right now we’re drawing to a close for 2017 — after this past Trump-filled year, we need a bit of a recharge — but we’ll be back the first week of January with renewed vigor, purpose, dedication and hard truths. And maybe a few surprises.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for staying in touch. We look forward to continuing our journey with you in 2018, no matter what challenges we all face.