Emily Gertz – Worldchanging.com

Posted on 05. Oct, 2007 by in Citizen Network, International

Your work in networked/citizen/collaborative journalism. I’m a freelance journalist and editor, working primarily with web publications. Since early 2004 I’ve been a writer at Worldchanging, a leading sustainability news, views, and information blog; currently I’m the Interim Managing Editor of our “global” site, as well as editor of Worldchanging NYC. I also work as a content strategist with groups and companies to develop and sustain blogs that build communities of interest and action. I was Producer for Environmental News at OregonLive.com for two years in the late 1990’s, where we did some fun early work in proto collaborative journalism: inviting readers to submit photos of Portland events; write training and ride diaries for a big-deal multi-day charity bicycle ride; running bboards where readers could comment on the local news, share outdoors sports info, etc. I got online in 1989 via early bboard systems Environet and Econet, and first became an online community host — helpful experience for networked journalism — in the mid-1990’s on The WELL (where I continue to host today).

What are your goals?

Environmental stories offer many untapped opportunities for collaborative or crowdsourced journalism. I’m especially interested in starting or contributing to projects that provide opportunities to use more forms of media (blogging/microlocal journalism, podcasting, photojournalism, and collaborative mapping).

What are some of your notable achievements?

At Worldchanging, I was part of what was perhaps our finest hour to date: contributors from all over the glob collaborating to cover the Indian Ocean Tsunami. Contributors in India were able to make first person reports based on what they were hearing and seeing, as well as what was coming in on their own collaborative digital networks — demonstrating how important those networks were on the scene. Those of us in other parts of the world pulled together “bigger picture” type coverage on transforming disaster relief, technology to create an early warning network, etc. I wrote about the boundary of environment and economy, connecting the condition of coastal mangroves to the degree of destruction inland. (Where the mangroves were healthiest and intact, they usually absorbed a lot of the wave’s energy; where they were degraded by ag runoff from inland, or simply destroyed to make way for farming shrimp for the export market, there was weaker or no buffering and destruction was worse).

Thus far, the single most famous article I’ve personallly written is “Naughty by Nature: Ever Thought About the Toxins in Your Sex Toys?” for Grist Magazine. It’s a funny and fun piece, but beyond that it’s notable because I successfully took unusual approach to reporting on an environmental health issue (phthlate exposure), such that people would read and enjoy the information, rather than being overwhelmed by it.

Lesson you’ve learned (including mistakes you’ve made)

It is usually impossible to “convince” anyone that this stuff is valuable. The knowledge about the medium and what it can do has to be in place in order to get the support and resources one needs to get it going, never mind pull it off — and if it’s not there, you probably ought invest time in educating the relevant stakeholders before you get too far into it. I’ve made the mistake of entering enthusiastically into a project without ascertaining that there was enough internal support. In these scenarios, success is elusive; existing biases against the medium are affirmed; and one does not come away having accomplished much. I have learned that I have to be more thoughtful and tactical both in taking a measure of the local climate, and judging whether to accept a project. (This can be challenging when you’re a freelancer — since gigs, not tactics, pay the bills!)

Are you getting revenue for this? How?

I earn my living primarily via journalism, including networked journalism, as well as content strategy towards using networks most effectively. If you know any freelancers, you know that’s pretty amazing! As I work on the editorial side of this or that outlet, I don’t get into the revenue side much — but I suspect the revenue being generated varies pretty widely; in the nonprofits, there’s a lot of dependence on grants, donations, and “angels.”

What’s next? What do you need to get to the next level?

I need to work with outlets and projects that are committed — with “moral” support, funding, enthusiasm and openness to creativity — to exploring online/networked journalism and pushing the envelope of what it can accomplish. Potentially I need to found such an outlet myself.

Anyone you’d like to talk with, learn from, or work with at the summit

Jonathan Landman of The New York Times

Jim Colgan and Bob Garfield of WNYC

Colin Maclay of the Berkman Center

One Response to “Emily Gertz – Worldchanging.com”

  1. Emily Gertz

    10. Oct, 2007

    Also — I’m teaching an independent study on “Digital Environmental Journalism” at NYU this fall. It’s got me thinking a lot about how you teach this stuff, and how to convey concepts of “good journalism” while also creating the warmer tone and voice of a blog. I’d enjoy talking with others who are teaching about what they’re hearing from and doing with their students, and their techniques for teaching networked journalism.