Stuff launched a magazine about climate change on the first day of New Zealand’s extremely strict coronavirus lockdown and, incredibly, it worked.
The Forever Project is home to New Zealand’s most ambitious climate crisis and sustainability reporting. It’s a digital hub and a quarterly 32-page magazine inserted in Stuff’s Sunday and metropolitan daily newspapers.
The project makes climate change readable by exploring the tangible ways the crisis (and its solutions) already affects our lives, without resorting to despair or technical jargon.
The magazine is the cornerstone of the project, but we’ve also released a video and podcast series and introduced a weekly newsletter. Most importantly, Stuff hired two dedicated journalists as the heart of a team that includes contributors from all our newsrooms.
As an all-of-business initiative, the Forever Project has three tiers:
- Public service journalism from the editorial team.
- Encouraging consumers and businesses to make positive changes (meaning the commercial team targets sponsorship clients with genuine decarbonisation achievements).
- Decarbonising Stuff’s own operations.
Taking climate change seriously
The project grew from Stuff’s Quick! Save the Planet initiative — which began in 2018, backed by an editorial policy of declining to publish climate change science denial.
Although Quick! Save the Planet was credited with helping get the Zero Carbon Act into law, it lacked its own dedicated staff. To supercharge our coverage, we needed specialist journalists and a wider range of news products.
The creation of the new role of climate change editor — my job — got an incredibly warm reaction from scientists, politicians, other journalists, and activists, as did our hiring of a senior climate journalist.
With our team in action, the first edition of our magazine was printed and ready for readers by March 24. The next day, the country entered one of the world’s strictest and swiftest lockdowns, making even purchasing a copy of a newspaper difficult. Even I, the editor, couldn’t get my hands on a copy in a shop. On the flipside, subscriptions to Stuff’s newspapers spiked, putting the stories in more people’s mailboxes, and our Web site traffic hit record highs.
Introducing climate change coverage into a news cycle swamped by COVID-19 was a huge challenge. Still, the project drew glowing feedback from readers who found time for it.
Over the next two months, our journalists ditched planned stories on aviation (since nobody was flying) in favour of covering COVID-19’s impact on greenhouse gas emissions.
We focused the theme of June’s magazine edition on rebounding from the virus — sharing ideas for the billions of dollars in stimulus spending underway.
Seeking to connect with a deeply distracted audience, we found success with stories on the fate of electric vehicle subsidies and confusing climate comments made by New Zealand’s opposition leader. We learned people like stories about changes they can see right now, whether that’s a water crisis, drawing inspiration from quiet city streets during the lockdown, or what rising seas are already doing to beach access.
Our One Hot Minute series paired a 60-second video in which smart thinkers pitched a climate solution with an in-depth podcast interview interrogating their ideas.
Audience analytics confirmed something reader surveys had already told us — people want to hear solutions, even modest ones. Two of the Forever Project’s most popular stories were about a supermarket chain swapping out its planet-heating refrigerants, and a simple way dairy farmers could cut their greenhouse impact.
Support for the Forever Project has come from forward-thinking corporates who signed on as sponsors — especially The Warehouse Group retailers, the New World supermarket chain and, latterly, Dole — and from readers who have contributed financially to the Stuff Supporter Programme.
Rounding off a year that was nothing like what anyone imagined, our fourth edition in December focuses on the climate impact of Christmas.
Next year’s work is looming. We must hold our new, apparently climate-focused, government to account. New Zealand’s independent Climate Change Commission will deliver its first set of roadmaps to reduce emissions. The next major IPCC report is due mid-year and the next global climate conference will be held in Glasgow.
The Forever Project will continue to grow. Having launched during the most turbulent year in recent memory, getting cut-through for the other, a greater crisis can only get easier.