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Sometimes an article takes the world by storm. The recent New York Times Magazine feature “Losing Earth” by Nathaniel Rich, is one of them. Rich took a sobering look at a brief window in time where the U.S. seemed poised to take on climate change but failed to act, and the story took off.
With 660 journalist shares, a seemingly endless amount of associated thought pieces, and now a forthcoming Apple television series, it’s safe to say the 30,000-word magazine feature is one of the most talked about stories of the year.
Capturing that kind of magic isn’t easy, so when a moment like this arrives, it’s important to know how to leverage it for your own cause. Let’s take a look at some of our favorite spin-off articles about “Losing Earth,” and what they can teach us (besides the fact that there’s no better time to act on climate than the present).
Each story exists in an ecosystem—surrounded by a context of competing or complementary narratives. The level of coverage a piece receives isn’t just about the content itself, but how that content interacts with the overall news cycle. According to our most recent Mediamarks Study, 2017 was a banner year for environmental and climate reporting. Our review of the media coverage of 50 nonprofits across five sectors in 50 influential outlets found that Environmental coverage was nearly twice the size of any other issue area.
To a certain degree, it should come as little surprise. Multiple superstorms, the fight to stop the Dakota Access pipeline and prevent Keystone from coming back from the dead, and a wave of landmark lawsuits against climate polluters drove significant coverage. That’s to not even mention the March for Science, People’s Climate March, and unprecedented attacks on clean air, water, energy, as well as our national monuments. Or Scott Pruitt… remember him?
All of those moments (good and bad) helped to create a drumbeat of coverage that nonprofits worked to leverage. It’s important to add that many of them would not have happened were it not for activists mobilizing to block reckless projects and policies while simultaneously staging mass demonstrations demanding bold actions on climate, jobs, and justice.
That kind of increased activity and attention creates fertile ground for a piece like “Losing Earth” to flourish. Among the stories featured in our 2017 Mediamarks report, only nine had more than 200,000 shares on social. “Losing Earth” has already garnered more than 270,000 shares, including 660 by journalists who not only helped to drive the conversation online but also produced a slew of spin-off articles of their own significance.
When the moment is right, and an outstanding piece drives widespread conversation on a key issue, reporters and NGOs have an opportunity to ride that wave of attention. Here are a few key tactics:
Upsell your own work
Whether you are the New York Times or an NGO, the publication of a story as large as “Losing Earth” isn’t the end, but just the beginning. Large feature stories about your issue area tend to open doors to larger or different audiences, which is why it’s critical to have a promotion plan to upsell your work with a particular emphasis on broadcast TV, radio, and podcasts.
The PR team behind the “Losing Earth” project, which was supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, did a great job on the here, securing major interviews with author Nathaniel Rich on shows like PBS NewsHour, CNN’s GPS with Fareed Zakaria, MSNBC, and NPR. As he’s wont to do, Michael Barbaro even managed to track down the author for an interview on The Daily. The Longform podcast also took a deeper dive with Rich on the story.
Insert your organization into the ongoing discussion
The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer wrote one of the most widely circulated critiques of the article, which cut to the core question raised by the piece: who is most to blame. (tl;dr: Republicans and Big Oil, duh). The thing we liked about Meyer’s piece the most was that it used the author’s own reporting to counter what many viewed as a flawed epilogue that didn’t align with the narrative depicted in the piece. It was thoughtful and balanced yet unsparing when it came to calling out specific parts he took issue with.
Many in the NGO community took a similar approach albeit through different channels. 350.org, for example, pushed out a statement to press, shared with their followers on Twitter, and also pushed out a thread—a good strategy particularly when journalists who spend a considerable amount of time on Twitter are all weighing in on a particular topic.
That’s not to say, however, you should forget about your tried and true tactics like simply submitting a letter to the editor. Corporate Accountability, 350, and the Asian People’s Movement on Debt and Development in the Philippines did that too, which gave them even more content to push out on social.
Direct response tactics can then help amplify your message. An accompanying email to your list or a handful of quick digital ads can help bring your content to a wider audience, and position your organization as part of the solution. Showing that you are relevant right at the moment that people are paying attention to your key issue is an excellent way to grow your list, raise money, or motivate new supporters to take action.
Find the “What’s Missing” angle
You might think that a 30,000-word feature story covers every aspect of a story, but there’s always stuff left uncovered. Those topics that are left untouched make for great follow-up opportunities for stories that use an article as a jumping off point to discuss other related issues. This is a tactic that we use day-in and day-out, and we encourage others to do the same.
Two of our favorite stories like these were authored by Alexander Kaufman at the Huffington Post and Naomi Klein at The Intercept, both of which discussed the role capitalism and neoliberal economic policy played in putting profits before people. Others shared more personal perspectives on social media about the wholesale absence of women and people of color in a story that captured a 10-year period and was the length of a short book, echoing similar concerns raised in the aforementioned joint letter to the editor NGOs secured in response to the article. As a nonprofit organization dedicated to to advancing in-depth journalism of underreported issues, the Pulitzer Center not only did its own reporting on the reporting, but also developed a stable of materials to bring “Losing Earth” into classrooms and other public spheres. (You can check those out here).
Collectively, these articles and social media engagements helped to contribute to the discussion by offering what some viewed as much needed course corrections while also contributing additional perspectives. While many of them were driven by journalists, the approach and tactics still apply to other stories large and small, so keep them in mind next time you’re looking to break into an already ongoing discussion.