Editor’s note: The University of Washington’s Environmental Media Lab is one of INN’s newest members. We caught up with Editor Kathy Kohm to hear about how the magazine is reinventing itself and what’s in store for the future.
Tell us your origin story: How was your organization founded?
The Environmental Media Lab is the evolution of Conservation magazine. Editor Kathryn Kohm and University of Washington biology professor Dee Boersma founded Conservation in 2000 as a publication of the Society for Conservation Biology. Environmental periodicals at that time were dominated by activist publications on one hand and ivory tower research journals on the other. Conservation staked out a middle ground. It was designed to be accessible to a wide spectrum of readers, open to challenging conventional wisdom, and pair great writing with provocative art to engage and delight.
One of the original goals was to finance the magazine’s launch while liberating it from the agenda of any single organization. To that end, Kohm and Boersma recruited a consortium of public and private environmental organizations (ranging from The Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund to the U.S. National Park Service and U.S. Geological Survey) to provide initial funding. Each partner organization contributed $150k to the operation over the first five years of the magazine’s life. After that, the magazine was supported by a combination of grants and subscription revenue.
Over the years, Conservation built a paid print circulation of more than 10,000 readers and a reputation for editorial and design excellence. It regularly attracted world-class thinkers, writers, and illustrators from The Economist, The New York Times, NPR, and Wired, and articles have been picked up by many other outlets and featured in Best American Science and Nature Writing.
In January 2012, the University of Washington in Seattle (where the magazine editorial office has been located since its launch) took over from the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) as publisher of the magazine. With this move, Conservation began expanding onto multiple platforms, including a daily science blog covering over 50 peer-reviewed research journals and live events.
Now in 2015, we are growing again and rebranding under the new name, The Environmental Media Lab. We chose the new name to reflect our expanded mission and to reach beyond the core conservation crowd. Environment encapsulates our focus. We will produce stories not only about the conservation of species and habitats, but also green food production, architecture, and energy. Media is about creatively mixing and matching print, digital, live, and other formats to match the consumption habits of modern media omnivores. And Lab calls to mind experimentation—a necessity in both environmentalism and journalism.
As a university-based media project, the EML is poised (we hope) to become a major thought leader in the field—akin to the Harvard Business Review, the MIT Technology Review, or the Columbia Journalism Review.
What’s your mission and what kind of impact do you hope to make?
Here’s a short mission statement—Follow this link for more information on what we hope to accomplish.
The Environmental Media Lab is dedicated to replacing ecopessimism with ecopragmatism—one story at a time. From interactive digital stories and a daily science blog to live events and beautiful print editions, the EML takes audiences to the leading edge of green science and technology.
Who’s your audience? How are you going to reach them?
The EML will build on Conservation magazine’s subscriber base of environmental professionals in academia, NGOs, and government. With the move to the Environmental Media Lab, we hope to expand our audience beyond the traditional core environmental crowd—bringing in more professionals (engineers, architects, and entrepreneurs) who may not think of themselves as environmentalists per se, but are interested in green design and sustainability.
One of our strategies to reach a more diverse set of readers is marketing individual stories rather than selling traditionally bundled packages of stories (aka: the magazine). We’re planning to work with a marketing instructor/consultant and student interns at the University of Washington Business School to market stories directly to sub-niches within the environmental field. For example, a story on sea level rise and coastal communities will be targeted to urban planners, civil engineers, and elected officials.
Each article’s release might be thought of in terms of a book launch, a strategy The New York Times followed this past spring in promoting their investigative series about nail salon employees’ working conditions. Marketing tactics will vary but will always include established social media initiatives, Google AdWords campaigns, outreach to thought leaders and relevant bloggers, and email marketing—along with experimentation with Snapchat, Instagram, and other new channels.
What revenue models are you pursuing?
In addition to seeking foundation support, we are pursuing several revenue models, including but not limited to:
- Moving from a traditional magazine subscription system to a membership/donation system, in which members are “insiders” that get benefits such as high quality print compilations, events/reception invitations, and small group conversations with our writers and the entrepreneurs that they profile
- Advertising and corporate sponsorship for special print issues, events, and classroom resources
- Crowdfunded beat reporting for topics such as “green” food production, energy innovation, and fighting wildlife crime
- Building out and monetizing our classroom resources that accompany each of our feature articles
- Live event series featuring the best minds in environmental innovation
Why did you decide to join INN? What do you hope to gain from membership?
Early in 2015, we received a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to transform Conservation, a traditional print magazine published since 2000 into the Environmental Media Lab (EML). The goal of the EML is to turn both the storyline and the bottom line of environmental journalism from negative to positive. This is where we hope the INN network will be a great resource. The MacArthur Foundation has challenged us to come up with a sustainable business model for high quality investigative environmental journalism. We’d like to be part of a community of journalism projects facing similar challenges. We’d like to exchange best business practices, network, and develop mutually beneficial partnerships through the INN network.