The Washington Post invests in climate coverage as its team expands to over 30 journalists

The Washington Post has grown its climate and environment team from six in 2018 to now more than 30 people. The investment signifies the importance of the coverage area for the publisher as it chases young readers who, it says, are drawn to this topic area.

“It’s incredibly important to connect with the generation that in many ways feels the most passionate on this issue,” said deputy climate editor Juliet Eilperin.

The hires for two global correspondents — one based in Europe, the other in Asia — will be announced soon. In October 2021, the Post said told Digiday that it doubled its climate team to 10 reporters and three editors. In February, it announced further plans to expand and double the team again.

Given the topic spans coverage areas across the newsroom, the number of people covering this beat is now “closer to 40,” said climate and environment editor Zachary Goldfarb.

Goldfarb said the growth of the team is due to climate being “one of the biggest stories of the century… It’s a combination of mission and evidence of how readers respond to that mission.”

The challenge, of course, is continuing to “grow our audience to understand the importance of the climate stories,” Goldfarb added. “We do see a very large audience for climate stories already. And one of the big motives behind this expansion, and especially using all these new formats of storytelling methods, is to bring the story to a much bigger readership.”

The Washington Post declined to share data to support this claim — or provide advertiser figures that would support this expansion. A Post spokesperson said: “This expansion is both a reflection of reader appetite and interest in this coverage as well as the enormity [and] news value of this story.”

Elspeth Rountree, an audience development and social media strategist and consultant, said “data should inform everything… I’m sure [The Post is] looking at numbers and making a bet based on those and what they think is going to make a return.”

In the coming weeks, The Post will also roll out four new editorial initiatives from this team without a sponsor. A new vertical, called Climate Lab, will house data-driven stories, visualizations and interactive features. Three columns are also coming out soon:

  • A climate advice column and newsletter, so far unnamed, will provide information on how to live a more “green” life and will launch in early 2023
  • “Hidden Planet” will be written by deputy weather editor Kasha Patel for a so-called light-hearted take on how the planet’s changing and will launch on Nov. 28
  • “Animalia” by staff writer Dino Grandoni will cover animals, wildlife recovery and discoveries and will launch on Nov. 28

The new columns and features are “more personable” to reach younger people, Goldfarb said. “We’re trying to make sure there’s something for everybody.”

The team’s growth is also part of a strategy Krissah Thompson, managing editor of diversity and inclusion at the Post laid out back in February to produce more visual, data-driven and explanatory stories as well as social media content. In June, an Instagram account was created to house The Post’s climate coverage. That account has more than 35,000 followers, compared to 6.3 million followers for the Post’s main Instagram account.

Ollie Joyce, global chief transformation officer at Mindshare, praised this strategy. “The large majority will likely see [content] in a newsfeed, and the ability to communicate visually and quickly is critical,” he said in an email.

Advertiser support for climate coverage

Last year, publishers were seeing increases in advertiser requests for climate and sustainability content. Back then, Michelle Chong, group director of planning at Fitzco, said that while the ad agency was seeing an increase in media opportunities related to sustainability and climate change, their clients weren’t sending out more RFPs in this category. In an email, she said this hasn’t changed.

However, Fitzco’s research “has consistently shown that environmental issues and sustainability are important topics to younger skewing audiences. The focus on social, along with visual representation of data, aligns with the type of content a younger audience consumes,” she said.

Joyce, on the other hand, said interest in sustainability content from advertisers and consumers “has undeniably trended upwards through 2022.”

However, it remains an increasingly competitive space — to draw both readers’ and advertisers’ attention. Publishers from The New York Times to The 19th have hired for this beat in the past year. Publishers like the FT and Bloomberg have hubs dedicated to climate and sustainability coverage as well.

Marketers are looking for three things when determining where to spend around this category, Joyce said. Among them include higher-income audiences, since “consumer interest in sustainability tends to increase with affluence” and quality content, as “a number of publishers prioritize quantity over quality over the past few years and that was disappointing.”

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