Climate & Clean Energy
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Why is Environmental Justice Journalism Important?

Published on
November 7, 2022
Show notes

It’s always worth revisiting the inarguable fact that our country was designed to be inequitable.

And while much progress has been made over time, the powers that be continued to imagine and design new ways of marginalizing, at best, Black, Brown, Asian, and Indigenous people throughout our society and economy.

But who will tell their story? And who should?

Local news has all but disappeared. Meanwhile, the communities most marginalized and least covered by mainstream publishers continue to struggle.

It’s important we help them tell their stories, not only so we are – very simply – more aware and educated about lived experiences different from our own, but so we can understand the specific mechanics behind the systems oppressing them, where their organizing has been successful, and where it hasn’t, and why.

And finally, how best to help.

We need new models of local and regional and even national news, where the news and stories are more accessible, more a product of relationships inside those communities, and more impactful, to improve daily outcomes, and to prepare us for an even more volatile future.

My guest today is Adam Mahoney.

Adam is a national climate and environment reporter at Capital B, a first-of-its-kind Black-led nonprofit local and national news organization committed to news that centers Black voices and experiences to act as a catalyst for meaningful change and beat back against mistruths targeted at Black people. 

In his reporting, Adam covers issues involving environmental racism, the ways communities are fighting climate change, and how the climate crisis is disproportionately impacting communities of color. 

Prior to joining Capital B, Adam covered policing in Chicago and was a reporter covering environmental justice and investigations at Grist, where he was also an environmental justice fellow.

Since joining Capital B, Adam has conducted numerous investigations tied to environmental justice and telling the underreported ways climate change is impacting Black Americans.

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Transcript

Quinn:

If as Katharine Hayhoe says, "The most important thing we can do about climate change is to talk about it," then among the most important things, the most basic shit people like me can do about environmental racism is to talk about it, to normalize people like me talking about it. It's always worth revisiting the inarguable fact that our country was designed to be inequitable. And while much progress has been made over time, not enough, the powers that be continue to imagine and design new ways of marginalizing at best, Black, Brown, Asian, and Indigenous people throughout our society and economy. From housing to education, to healthcare, employment, food and water and air, marijuana and COVID and so much more. But who will tell their story and who should? 

Welcome to Important, Not Important. My name is Quinn Emmett and this is Science for people who give a shit. In our weekly conversations I take a deep dive with an incredible human who's working on the front lines of the future to build a radically better today and tomorrow for everyone. Along the way we'll discover tips, strategies, and stories you can use to get involved, become more effective for yourself, your family, your city, your company, and our world. 

Local news is all but disappeared. Some mainstream publishers are making money now, I mean, the New York Times is making it hand over fist, but a lot aren't.

And meanwhile, the community's most marginalized and least covered by those publishers continue to struggle. Not just after big storms or fires or whatever, where they're less likely to receive government assistance for the news itself, to just move on from them to whatever the fucking crisis of the day is. But just on the daily and yet on the daily, they're also fighting to not only work and live to survive, to build a better life at home and at work, but to build a better foundation for their community as a whole to work together to improve healthcare, the air they breathe, the water they drink, the food they eat, the schools they attend, and the jobs that are available to them. And it's important we help them tell their stories, not only so we are very simply more aware and educated about lived experiences different from our own, but so we can understand the specific mechanics behind the systems oppressing them. So we can understand where they're organizing has been successful and where it hasn't and why. And finally, how best to help. We need new models of local and regional and even national news where the news and stories are more accessible to everyone, more of a product of relationships inside those communities, a news that is more impactful to improve daily outcomes and to prepare us for an even more volatile future.

For climate change, for the next pandemic, but also for a transition to green jobs. 

My guest today is Adam Mahoney. Adam Mahoney is a national climate environment reporter at Capital B, A first of its kind, Black led nonprofit, local and national news organization committed to news that centers black voices and experiences to act as a catalyst for meaningful change and be back against mistruth targeted at black people. In his reporting, Adam covers issues involving environmental racism, the ways communities are fighting climate change, and how the climate crisis is disproportionately impacting communities of color. Prior to joining Capital B, Adam covered policing in Chicago, who's a reporter covering environmental justice and investigations at Grist, we love Grist. Where he was also an environmental justice fellow and since joining Capital B earlier this year, Adam has conducted numerous investigations tied to environmental justice and telling the underreported ways climate change is impacting black Americans.

I'm a huge fan of Capital B like we are the 19th as we discuss here in their new model to center and work with the marginalized communities they live in and cover to better tell their stories. Adam's work to hold the more powerful accountable is timely and impactful and yes, impactful is the word we overuse these days, lord knows I overuse it. But sincerely, his work is connecting with connecting us, the readers with more than ever before the lives first affected and who will be most affected by this world we've built. Let's go talk to Adam.

Adam, I appreciate it, man joining us early this morning from the Los Angeles area, which hopefully is not on fire at the current moment. Listen, I like to start with one important question, set the tone for this whole thing. That is, why are you vital to the survival of the species? And it's a little ridiculous and that's the point.

Adam Mahoney:

That's a really huge question.

Quinn:

Yeah, it's a little ridiculous and it puts you on the spot for a minute, but I don't know, man. Usually people laugh at me and then I get something pretty sweet out of it. So be bold, be honest.

Adam Mahoney:

Yeah, I mean, I think for me, in terms of the work I'm doing, at least I feel like I'm bringing in a lot of lived experience, which helps me connect the dots and connect to folks who are deeply impacted by this work. So I grew up in Wilmington in the Harbor city area of Los Angeles, which is right off of the port of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the biggest port in North America, and also the highest polluting port North America, less than a mile from a 400 acre oil refinery, couple hundred feet from some oil wells. Environmental justice was ingrained in my life before I even knew it and had deep impacts on my family, me grew up with asthma, all those things, all those check marks. And I've attempted to use my own experience to, not only uplift the experiences of the folks that I care about and that I love and grew up with, but also connecting these issues across a broad spectrum of inequalities and in agents of injustice.

So I feel like because of my experience, I've been able to broaden what I think environmental justice is. And to me that is having access to all the things that you need to survive, which can include a lot of things that people don't usually connect to EJ, so I do a lot of work around environmental justice and policing, environmental justice and incarceration, how that impacts access to housing, access to healthy food, a wide spectrum of things that I think I wouldn't have been able to come in to this work that way without having lived through it a bit.

Quinn:

I love that. Thank you for sharing that. So I want to talk about Capital B a little bit and the mission there and how that reflects your work coming over from Grist and stuff. It's a nonprofit with an explicit mission to center black voices audience needs and experiences in which partners with the communities it serves. You got a leadership team that's got crazy mainstream media credentials like yours, hiring tons of folks who seem to want to work on something more specific and meaningful. Reminds me a little bit, are you familiar with the 19th? 

Adam Mahoney:

Amazing work.

Quinn:

Yeah, they're doing awesome work and it's so necessary and I'm so curious about the nonprofit model and don't worry, we won't dig into the business stuff too much. But, it's interesting and it's important because local journalism specific journalism has just been crushed for the past 20 years. But it seems like there's a lot of solutions journalism in there as well. Maybe not as specifically, but if solutions journalism is traditionally, look at how this community is responding, here's some of the things that are working and maybe not, here's what we can learn for it. What might be transferable, here's how it matters. How is that attractive to you for the work you've been doing for Grist and everybody for so long when still a lot of these mainstream places, they're just not allowed to do more specific actionable type things like that?

Adam Mahoney:

For me, it really allowed me to specifically cater to your audience. I feel like most of my background is in online media. The issues that I struggled with throughout my career so far is that you can be writing about Black and brown communities facing whatever X, Y, Z injustice, but who are you writing for? Because the folks that you're writing about most typically do not have access to whatever publication you're writing at. And I feel like at Capital B and in the nonprofit model specifically when you're not worrying necessarily about clicks as much, that you can be very targeted and specific what the folks that you're trying to reach. And it can become more of a collaborative process where you are porting with folks instead of necessarily reporting on them for whatever you want to consider change makers, which and this industry we tend to say are white, wealthier or elected officials, people in power.

And in Capital B, when we're thinking about solutions, we're really focusing on solutions that have been implemented and are being built in the communities that we're writing about, which historically have not been framed as solutions. Usually it is legislation or policy and things like that, but every day community members are building their own ecosystems, their own networks and acting change in their own way. And I think the non-profit model and in Capital B specifically centering black folks that very often don't get centered, were allowed to uplift some of the things that wouldn't be considered quote unquote, solutions or quote unquote, newsworthy important.

Quinn:

And then the non-profit model allows you to not have to put up a paywall, so it is accessible to everyone. And so when you build this foundation of accountability meets solutions, the communities that could benefit from that coverage, like you said, reporting with other communities, could actually take that to heart and implement in a way as opposed to just a bunch of white readers at the Atlantic.

Adam Mahoney:

Yeah, definitely. And I think within the non-profit model right now, collaborations between newsrooms has exploded, which I really appreciate. So that's just even another way that you can get more deeply entrenched into community with organizations that have already been doing that work for extended period of time. Because Capital B is relatively new and we started publishing in late January of this year. So of course it's going to take time to build that readership across the country. But to be able to partner with local organizations while we're doing that work is amazing.

Quinn:

I've been reading it for a little while, like you said though, it hasn't been going on that long, but it does seem like that there seems to be on the business and editorial side, the Atlanta focus, but also the national focus and it seems like you're more on the national beat. Is there an intentional breakdown to how editorial covers those two?

Adam Mahoney:

Definitely there's a divide there. I mean, I think our mission remains the same across both newsrooms, but in our local newsrooms, we have Atlanta right now. In Atlanta, they're really trying to fill the specific gaps within the media ecosystem there. It is community oriented, but it's not as on the ground heavy as it might be in Atlanta because they do like civic partnerships, partnerships with nonprofits that are not journalism organizations. So it really, they're doing the journalistic work, but it's also a community organization in a sense.

Quinn:

I mean you're embedded in it. Then all that stops. The time is now for newsrooms to be built in and part of Atlanta and some of these other cities that you refuse to tell me about. It seems like, working with those groups would be such a success story at this point.

Adam Mahoney:

Definitely. And I think it makes the journalistic work better to when you are embedded in the community that way, there is that, to me that the whole fallacy of objectivity and then that separation between quote unquote activism and journalism. And I'm not saying in any way that our journalists or that newsroom is an activist organization, but to be embedded with the folks on the ground doing that work every day, it gives you a different perspective and also allows you more sources, more understanding of a city that typically mainstream media does not get to.

Quinn:

Two things have changed. News has changed so much, it's so much more centralized because local news has been ruined because of the internet and Google and Facebook and all that. But at the same time, and this is where again I get the legacy requirements I guess, and for the longtime reporters to not get into the more actionable stuff, to not embed and go, "We got to tell the stories of how this is working." Because there's also this ticking clock going, we have to show the places where this is working and so that other places can emulate that if they can, especially the ones that are affected the most.

So it seems like such an imperative to have more models like this in the 19th. I mean the 19th, we've known that the Supreme Court was going to try to get rid of abortion rights for decades now. 19th spring up year before it happened and now they're like, look, this is the thing. It's more important than ever that we tell these stories and why it's important we report on our maternal health issues and all these different ways.

Adam Mahoney:

Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. Yeah, I definitely agree and I think the folks on, if you want to say the other side who are not supportive of this journalistic model with these issues that you're talking about, climate change, women's rights, those are the people who necessarily wouldn't be supporting them in the first place. So I'm, as a reporter, someone in this industry, I'm not going to spend all of my time trying to center someone who doesn't see the work that I'm doing is valuable in the first place. At Capital B, our readership obviously is very excited about the work that we do. So it makes a little bit more easy and this work a little bit more fulfilling.

Quinn:

And imagine there's just more trust there too. That you're going to tell stories that recognize it's not always successful. You grew up next to one of the biggest ports in the world. It's a nightmare, not just from the pollution, but why is the pollution there? And why are all those oil drills there? And why has Stand Up been fighting for so long?

Adam Mahoney:

Yeah, 100%. 100% for sure.

Quinn:

Do you consider your beat national mostly or is it more emblematic of where you are and how that extends elsewhere?

Adam Mahoney:

I mean I consider myself a national reporter. I think with environmental issues specifically because a lot of them are replicated across the country, it's easier to hone in maybe on a local example and bring that out to a national perspective. And at least I feel like it makes the work a little bit more enticing for readers when you can hone in on specific characters and specific examples. But I think everything is, especially on the climate environment beat, everything is so deeply intertwined that oil refineries in California, or Los Angeles, while that might be a local story that has not only national implications but global implications with the way that we're importing, exporting oil and then in pollution and how that's exacerbating climate change not only within the continental United States but abroad. So I think on the Climate Beat specifically every story is, of which is a little cliche and corny, but every story is of national importance.

Quinn:

Climate's everywhere, environmental racism, it's everywhere. You're welcome.

Adam Mahoney:

Mm-hmm. So I think there's a way to attack both for both ways while also building out that local audience and connecting with folks on the ground. But getting that to a national audience.

Quinn:

Probably going home to LA was checking the family box for sure, Did you consider, I don't want to say the advantages of the Climate Beat going back, but how much did that play into your decision to say this is where I'm going to set up shop?

Adam Mahoney:

It definitely played a role. I'm actually relatively new to the environment beat up until the beginning of 2020, I was reporting on police and prisons exclusively in Chicago. And a reason I made that shift to environmental reporting before I even moved back home to Los Angeles was because of, I mentioned before, those elements of the lived experience but also doing work that I felt was more impactful for the people that I cared about. And then to be able to do that work from the place that I'm from was really perfectly aligned. Before I started at Capital B, I wrapped up a fellowship at University of Southern California's Journalism School, a three parts story on Wilmington, which required me to traveling back and forth from Chicago. I'm in LA for a couple of months, so it just made sense to get out here fully and it has made doing the work actually easier for me so I can't complain.

Even though it is in the grand scheme of things, a lot of doom and gloom and in terrible things that I'm thinking about and writing on. But it has made it easier and also to put faces to this work, it helps you continue that drive, that passion.

Quinn:

I remember a couple years ago, and please don't listen to it for my side because I'm sure I was terrible at it, but I got to have a great conversation with Rhiana Gunn-Wright back when everyone's like, "She's writing the Green New Deal." And it was like, "She's building the future." And we had a lot of fun, but she talked about what it was like being in those room. I mean, she's incredible, but what it was being in the rooms trying to explain to people what a Green New Deal was and what it could do and yes, why we had to check all the social and economic boxes as well. Because everyone says, "Yeah, but we'll deal with those people later." And she's like, "That's my people in Chicago. I can't go home and say I allowed you to be cut out of this process because it wasn't technological enough or whatever it might be." It seems to really ground the work.

Adam Mahoney:

Yeah, 100%. She's in the same boat. I interviewed her this year. She recently moved back to Chicago for those same reasons to bring that work closer to home for her. Which I really appreciate about her work as well, is that intersectionality and how, like you said, those economic and social markers of injustice are so deeply connected to whatever climate and environmental issues these communities are facing. So you can't look the at them and as if they're settled off and in separate boxes because they're not, they're one in the same and they impact each other so deeply that it would be impossible to tackle this issue, this very, very humongous large issue without looking at it as deeply connected like that.

Quinn:

But it also helps, I mean again, and I'm sure you hear this all the time, welcome to the Climate Beat, it's a nightmare at times. But climate change is the water you drink, it's the air you breathe, it's a heat you feel on your back if you're in a red line town or you got sea level rise coming at you every day in Miami, whatever it might be. Or you're in the west and they're sending blackout alerts, That is really where it hits home and it's often the best place to start because one, you're more likely to be able to affect it.

Just go to your city council meetings and argue for bike lanes. Look at all the repeatable versions that have worked in so many places. Not necessarily here, but it matters and you can affect that and say this area of the road, we can do this, it's next to a school. But also you're more likely to actually see some change there. 

Adam Mahoney:

I think. And what I tend to tell people, like you're saying, starting at that community level is really the best and most effective way to do this work. I think one of the things that has been most exciting to me within California, there are a couple of groups like the Asian Pacific Environmental Network up in Oakland and Richmond communities for a better environment, which is all throughout the state they've been building or at least trying to build these community climate hubs and it's like spaces for community members to meet obviously and talk about the climate issues in their communities, the environmental issues, how those are first impacting them, but also ways to build networks and the time of need, whether that be during heat waves or power outages because of heat waves, exasperated pollution because of wildfires. Just different ways that, I think the only way that we're going to be able to address this, is by building community and being in community with the folks around us.

And I think especially in the United States, it's been a coordinated effort for decades, centuries to disrupt that community building, especially in black and brown communities and neighborhoods. So, to be able to face that head on and frame it around climate, which obviously one of the more pressing issues of this time and especially in California, I think that's really the only way to go about it. And I think typically when we're looking at climate issues and environmental justice issues, historically we have looked for legislation and policy to make those changes. Which one, that route is impactful, but that route takes years if not decades, to have material changes in people's lives, which a lot of people don't have decades. Especially in these communities where you're already facing whatever health ailments, lower life expectancies, you want to see change not immediately. And you can do that with your community.

Quinn:

I had a conversation last year with the Mary Prunicki up at Stanford talking about what are we dealing with wildfire smoke? Pollution's bad, let's not forget that, but what is this shit? How bad is this? And she's like-

Adam Mahoney:

It's on another level.

Quinn:

Nobody knows more than me, it's bad, we don't know how bad because we don't have decades of biomarkers and people to really measure what it really does. But we know, again, it's going to affect Black and brown kids more, it's affecting them in the classrooms and at home and things like that. And like you said, it's easy to look at federal legislation, even state legislation in a place like California and go, these kids don't have time and now you got a cardio respiratory pandemic and not surprisingly Black and brown people twice as likely to die. It matters that we make those choices there.

Adam Mahoney:

Yeah, definitely. Just to use Wilmington as an example, Wilmington has the highest concentration of oil production west of Texas and 40% of the residents in Wilmington don't have health insurance. So what does that mean? If you're living amongst these pollution issues, you're also going to be first impacted by climate change. You know have all this fossil fuel infrastructure right along the water, with sea level rise, there's like a dozen points of infrastructure that are expected to flood in Wilmington within the next 50 years. We need immediate change. And not sadly, because I think it is more inspiring to build from the community level up, but that work has to start at home.

I interviewed someone for the project that I was mentioning earlier who basically said, "You can have all these researchers, academics, government officials tell us what is wrong with our community. But at the end of the day, we are the ones that have to make that change, we are the ones that have to do it. Because they'll sit and tell us for 50 years what is wrong with that doesn't mean that they're necessarily going to do the work to change it without us pushing them forward.

Quinn:

Much less that they don't keep designing it to further marginalize those people. If 40% without health insurance isn't good enough for them. It's clear that when we're talking about climate change, environmental racism, they're systemic for a reason. These things are everywhere for a reason because they were designed to touch every part of the societal and economic layers within how this country works. You familiar with Ed Young at the Atlantic? I remember early on he said, "Pandemic was the flood that exposed all the cracks in the sidewalks that were already there." I remember before that, the metaphor I had been using was it's a pop quiz. It's like, "Hey, here's all the societal and economic choices you've made to get to now let's put them to the test." And we failed 90% of them. More folks and a greater variety of folks, so white people with health insurance basically are more aware of ever that public health is in tatters, from soup to nuts, from trust to nurses to the way we've just normalized loss and suffering.

It's incredible and forget even what does this mean for climate? But obviously racism in this country is the original public health issue and is very systemic and we see it over and over and I've tried to cover it as best as I can with maternal health and mental health. But it seems like Capital B does an excellent job really talking about those in a really specific way. And so again, trying to frame them as opportunities for improvement. Where do you find with the places you've covered, even going back to Chicago and police, where are some of the places where we can actually start to make some headway? Where are there policies and programs that are actually working that might be repeatable elsewhere?

Adam Mahoney:

In terms of environmental justice and climate change, which is contradictory to the way that I've been talking about California and Los Angeles. But already mentioned this multiple times to folks that stand LA and CBE, looking at that work of phasing out oil drilling, which goes on across the country. We have that in the south, the southwest, northeast. That is one of the bigger issues that there can be a lot of actionable change around. So there are only right now five states that have buffer zones between sites of oil production and sites of schools, hospital and housing. I think California is either going to be the fifth or sixth if it ever gets passed, but oil wells exist in 20 or so states if not more than that. That's one work that can be replicated across the country. I feel that it's really important if not only thinking about the public health impacts of pollution, but also the climate impacts oil wells, idled oil infrastructure is our biggest emitter of methane, which is the super pollutant that is driving climate change the quickest.

So on both fronts, that's work that needs to be done and there are successful organizations to look at, whether it be in LA specifically or across the country. And then you mentioned the water issues in Jackson. One of the things that has come up in my reporting, we've seen it both here in California and in Michigan and Flint and Detroit seen it in Chicago and starting to see it in Jackson in Mississippi is what community level organizing looks like. So that's procuring funds to get at home filters for folks while the infrastructure repairs lag behind. Once again, that's not like a solution to this crisis, but at a very micro level it changes the material conditions of folks and there are organizations across the country that are doing that work and trying to replicate helping folks get access to clean water. And that's something that you can do in your community regardless of where you're at.

Quinn:

That matters though, I talk about it all the time when people wrestling with it is like, "Yeah we got to fix the bigger problem." And often that does require federal, state, or city legislation or finding and recruiting candidates that can run for those offices, hold those offices that will then grow up and become the bigger office orders to pass them. But in the meantime, people need water tonight, we need to feed people tonight. So it's important that we do both. That isn't, like you said, it's a micro level that people get these water filters, but it matters. It's like sending people diapers.

Adam Mahoney:

The whole idea of rapid response networks really exploded during COVID and these community networks of sharing resources and financial funds. And it was originally framed right as a public health issue in a public health service. But it can definitely be expanded during all times and as a way to combat whatever climate issues that a community is facing. So if you already have that network system where you are helping to support people with water, food, clothes, during instances of climate destruction, whether it be heat waves or hurricanes. But once again, this work obviously should not 100% fall on the people who are already most impacted by it, even though historically that's how it tends to be. But there is a way to balance and reconcile with the fact that you are being oppressed and you are faced to these injustices while also having the wherewithal, having the ability to do this work and stand tall with it, which I think you can only do by having community. You can't do this work alone, it is difficult.

And I think I always give back, I always come to this place when talking about climate issues or are talking about some of these biggest bigger issues that we're facing that it does require a lot of sacrifice and it tends to be the folks who are most impacted who are going to have to sacrifice first. And it's how do we reconcile with that and wrestle with that while also doing the work that we need to do to survive and to better our communities?

Quinn:

For folks who are listening, it's so important, it seems like you were alluding to, but contextually a fine line and you got to overlap a little bit as far as listening and supporting the people who are on the ground, who have the lived experience and are living the experience of what needs to be done, what help is needed on day to day basis and overall. But also not putting the onus completely on them and just listening and supporting them however we can. The point is, all these people that have been doing this organizing that continue to do it and we're trying to figure out how to help them and listen to them also are the people who are more likely to be working hourly jobs, to not have time off, to not have paid leave, during a pandemic, don't have childcare. I don't want to use the metaphor of playing with one arm behind your back, but it is almost impossible to do your job, to live and to organize to do these things. And then all of a sudden you got Jackson and you're out of, you're on a boil notice..

Adam Mahoney:

Going to be remiss to mention that, also in these communities, especially, that are on the front lines of fossil fuel production and infrastructure, the way that they survive for a lot of folks is through these companies. And Wilmington, to use that example again, the port and the four major oil companies that are in Wilmington, those are the only, pretty much the only way folks are able to enter the middle class is by working there. And then obviously that changed the community perspective around these polluters. These oil companies in Wilmington fund, repairs at the local public schools. They're the ones funding community gardens, they fund the biggest health clinic and a community that doesn't have health insurance. How can you-

Quinn:

Oh I mean, here it's Dominion Energy sponsors everything. The garden that they light up at night and they make free for everybody. It's like Dominion Energy here, no, I get it. It's just insidious.

Adam Mahoney:

People are stuck between a rock and a hard place doing this work. So even more kudos, more love and support to the folks who are able to break through that and do that work with pretty from every direction. Rocks being thrown at them, it's a lot to think through. But like you said, at its core it's about supporting the folks that are doing that work while also trying our hardest to alleviate some of that pressure that's on them.

Quinn:

And a really good conversation with two folks who work at Give Directly, I'm not sure if you're familiar with that organization. Basically what they do,  their whole thing is like, we're not going to build water wells, we're not going to provide food, we just do cash. It's just cash. And the idea is, it gives people autonomy because, you Adam are going to know what you need on any given day better than anybody else. You might need a water well for the summer period when everything is completely parched and you can't do your subsistence farming, but you might also need diapers or you might need food in that. And it gives people the ability to make their own decisions, but it also gives them that feeling of being able to do that, that you have some ownership over these things.

And I guess the reverse of that is you're saying how do you organize against the place where your husband or wife works? It provides most of the jobs in the area even though you know it's poisoning the community. And you always hear this thing about, "Let's sweep down and let's put outdoor air monitors on every porch." And it's like, great. But they're, those people leave those porches and go off to work at those places because it's the only place that they can work in. Historically that's all that's ever been there.

Adam Mahoney:

Yeah. Not to continue to harp on them

Quinn:

But that's what we're talking about. It starts at home.

Adam Mahoney:

Yeah, I interviewed one woman for that project. Her family has lived in the same home since the sixties. They're directly in between two oil refineries. Every generation in that home has had cancer, they've had family members die of cancer. She herself has leukemia and she told me she fully believes that the oil refineries are the reason why she has cancer and why a lot of her loved ones has had cancer. But she also drives a gas powered car and she feels like she needs that infrastructure to survive and do the things that she's normalized in her life. As a reporter And as anyone who deeply is an advocate, deeply cares about these issues, you also can't speak for other people and how they're trying to reconcile what their lived experiences and combat whatever injustices they're facing. Because it is deeply complex and it's not as cut and dry as we like to think it is or we wish it was. So yeah, it's all very difficult and it has a wide ranging impact on folks' everyday lives.

Quinn:

I really appreciate your perspective as a human, someone with these lived experiences which continue to grow and change and be molded through your life and your work. And now being back with family and having been in Chicago, talk to me about mentorship because it seems like someone would be lucky to learn from your perspective as much as they can, bringing their own lived experience to it. Tell me a little bit about the Zenith cooperative, because it seems like you're really intent on keeping the ladder down for other folks and maybe either empowering them to do more specific work at the big publishers or doing something like Capital B or the 19th or something else.

Adam Mahoney:

Yeah, yeah. I'm super, super proud and excited to be a part of Zenith for my own career. I wouldn't have been able to be in the position that I am in right now without having mentorship and having folks that when I was an intern, that when I was an undergrad, folks that were advocating for me, sharing opportunities with me. With Zenith particularly right now, I think it's super important because there's, my two mentors and two mentees in the program right now are folks who came into journalism not knowing that it wasn't their first choice and it wasn't something they knew that they wanted to do. And because of what we've lived through in the last two and a half years, a lot of folks have been pushed to action. And I guess journalism reporting, that's one way to do that. So to support folks while they're coming to their own whatever sociopolitical understanding of the world around them.

And it has been super, super impactful and important to me because I had that same mentorship when I was trying to figure everything else out around me. And also to just, there are not a lot of Black and brown folks in this industry. And to have folks advocating for Black and brown folks advocating for other Black and brown folks in positions of quote unquote power within newsrooms or this industry at large, it's like, sadly that's the only way to get into this work and to do that work. So be able to have the opportunity to do that now is really cool. And we have a pretty big cohort, a couple dozen and I think about two dozen mentors. They're all early to mid career mentors with early career mentees. So it's beyond a mentorship program, it is really just building out a network in building relationships with folks who are trying to navigate this quickly changing industry that is not always the most forgiving to Black and brown folks.

Quinn:

And it seems like it matters that you're not too far along in your career, that you are too distant from the work they're trying to do. Apples to Oranges, but I remember when I was at ESPN and it's heyday and the guy sat, the boss, my boss, I wanted to go move over to the, they're like, "An iPhones coming out." And we were like, a couple of us, I mean we were under 30, we were like, "Well let's build some games or I don't know, put stats on it or something." And this guy closes the door and he was like, this is the... He literally said, "This is a conversation you're going to remember for the rest of your life," my boss's boss.

He's like, "If you're not working in TV, you're not doing anything." He's like, "That internet shit, is a waste of time. You guys are wasting our money, this and that." And he wasn't that much older, I don't know, 15 years. But you look at the cash cow that was for them and how different it was. And you saw 10 years ago, everybody going, "I guess we got to get on Facebook because advertising doesn't exist. Our whole business model's gone, so now the publisher's gone." So it matters not just, obviously it's incredibly important and primarily important that you are Black and brown journalists and editors and publishers who are actively doing the work and still trying to fight your way through and starting groups like Capital B. But again that you can still touch and feel the medium that they're working in and you can go through these still seismic changes together.

Adam Mahoney:

Yeah, yeah, definitely. And I mean even that, and I've seen that generational divide and this work now even folks who have maybe been in the game a decade or so longer than me are still heavily invested for good reasons, heavily invested into print media and television media. But what I've noticed for myself and even folks who are a little younger than me, that's not the goal anymore, that's not the way that folks feel like they can connect with the communities that they're writing about. It's not through newspapers, legacy newspapers anymore. So while standing firm in that and being able to support folks who are of that same understanding is really cool.

Quinn:

It's interesting though because, I mean the thing I always come back to and I feel like is the underlying ethos of what we're talking about today is relationships, relationship building and grounding your work and your experience in those things. Whether it's the green space you may be lucky enough to have around you or the relationship with community health providers or news or just the people who are suffering alongside of you and trying to do something better. It is interesting because again, it's so antiquated now, but people had this trust in local news and newspapers. They would get it and you get the sports scores of the local high school and you knew the people who were writing and the pieces and maybe they wrote about your kids and maybe they didn't. And then the internet explodes and there's nothing that you can connect to.

And so it seems like it worked what Capital B is doing, if you can take from Atlanta to these other newsrooms and other places, still do the national, but ground them in other places, hopefully we can rebuild some of those relationships so people will at the very least talk to the press. And other folks empathize with what they're trying to build.

Adam Mahoney:

Yeah, definitely. And I would even say for a lot of communities, marginalized communities, it's not even about rebuilding that trust. It's about building it, because it was never there in the first place. And I'm thinking, in Los Angeles specifically, I didn't grow up with anyone talking about the Los Angeles Times or reading the LA Times, even though it's the second biggest newspaper in the country and I respect a lot of the work that they're doing, that's just not really the reality for folks and how they consume information. There has to be a new model, if we're really trying to reach the folks that are claiming to care about and then wanting to support, we have to try new things.

Quinn:

Yeah, 100%. What would your really specific guidance before, how are you talking to these mentees? For folks who are coming up, either independent journalism, like they're starting a sub stack or they're Axios has reached out to them because they've got one and they want to do a local thing or it's a Capital B or whatever it might be, or they're an artist or something like that. How would you specifically guide them to getting involved in this? 

Adam Mahoney:

One of the things that has been helpful with the, well social media has its pros and cons, but if it's been helpful in the world that we're in right now is that you do have access to whatever you want to consider your journalism idols or are the folks that you respect and you care about their work. It's not that hard to get in contact with people, now you have emails, Twitter, DMs, even folks are active on Instagram and Facebook. So that's one of the biggest things that I've pushed and was helpful for me is just reach out to the people that you think are doing good work. Not everyone is going to respond, but folks will. And you can start your relationships from there. But also standing tall in the work that you're doing and in standing tall on your values in this industry, I think there are a lot of expectations that are slowly being broken apart in the last couple of years.

One, being whatever you want to consider journalistic objectivity and just the different ways that the industry has aided and also explicitly harmed communities by the work and the framing that they're doing. And standing tall and saying, "That's not the work I'm doing. That's not the work I want to do." And I think there's way to do that, even within mainstream news organizations that the tide is changing very slowly, but it is shifting. That's another thing, especially for people, like I said, some of the folks in the program who entered this industry after being whatever some people might say radicalized or are just coming to a place of understanding because of the world we've experienced the last two and a half years and not losing sight of that drive. What got you into this industry, it was because you saw suffering around you or you were suffering yourself. And not to lose sight of that and the work.

Because I do think it can be beaten out of you because at the end of the day, especially for places with paywalls, for newspapers, places running, ads like that, you're creating a commodity. It modifies the work that you're doing, you have to stay true to that with all that around you.

Quinn:

Thank you for sharing that. And it's so privileged and easy on the other hand to be like, go make your Substack. You can write for free, you can do this and this. It's like, yeah, but when you have to pay bills and you don't get time off, do you get the chance to go write about your community? Great. So find some friends, find someone who's good at talking on the phone, who can sell some local Ads for your local Substack or whatever it is. I appreciate you covering this from this perspective.

But I hope that there's even more models and more software or whatever it might be, or mentorship programs to help folks build the business of doing these things. So there's more than one Capital B, so there's more than one 19th because there's a thousand different ways that can be sliced up and applicable to so many people.

Adam Mahoney:

That is it at its core, really.

Quinn:

I don't want to keep you too long. This has been awesome. I really, really, really appreciate it.

Adam Mahoney:

Yeah.

Quinn:

Okay. First time in your life, when you realized you had the power of change or the power to do something meaningful, sixth grade running for office, when you had asthma, your squad's doing X, what could that be? I get such fantastic answers from so many different people.

Adam Mahoney:

That's a good question. Honestly, it was probably a little bit later in my life, the beginning of college, I went to Northwestern, left Los Angeles, so I was, well one , in for a hell lot of culture shock.

Quinn:

I was like, how'd that go?

Adam Mahoney:

Oh, it was absolutely insane. I mean, my high school, 80% of students were low income and then to go to Northwestern were 20% of undergrads are from the top 1% of the country's wealth. That was insane. But one of things, or what I noticed is I was able to bring back what I was learning to my community, to my friends, and that started through social media as I was going through my, whatever you want to consider radicalization, not even radicalization, but understanding of the world around me outside of the bubble that I grew up in Los Angeles. So I was able to bring a lot of that back home. I got the opportunity to travel the world, I did a research project in Uganda for three months when I was 18.

I did a research project in Vietnam in college and reported in Palestine. And to have folks from my community appreciate the information that I was sharing through the avenues that I was starting with, which started with Instagram, started with Twitter before I even started actually writing and doing the typical journalistic work to have folks engage with that, people that I grew up with who didn't have the opportunity to do those things, but to see how that kind of changed their perspective without even having to go somewhere else made me realize the power of journalism and the power of sharing information.

Obviously the change comes from action, but I think the first step is obviously education and figuring out what the issue at hand or figuring out the different ways that the world around you has oppressed you, is a big word, but that the world around you has affected you. And to be a vehicle for that and connecting people to the political education, social education that they needed for their own lives was deeply impactful for me and is really the only reason why I stay in this industry. I have my issues with the industry at large, but regular times where people come express their appreciation for the work that you're doing or express how it impacted their life. That's what keeps me doing it, and if that didn't exist, I don't think I would be able to.

Quinn:

I love that, that idea that you can, even just starting on Instagram and I don't know how it started, but just it's like the world's most basic photojournalism. Because it's affecting somebody somewhere, even if you don't even intend it to. Because like you said, you're just like, I need to share this.

Adam Mahoney:

Mm-hmm. That was it at it's core. It was built out of passion and excitement for myself and then understanding that it was exciting for other people too, which I think that's what journalism is. In our own regards, we're all nerds a little bit and we're doing this work because some of the things that we're writing about interests us and it is a little selfish, I think, but some of it is like, I'm doing this because I think that's cool and then it's just a bonus when it impacts other people as well.

Quinn:

100%, I look like this. I've never needed food or water or clean air and I'm incredibly lucky and I didn't start these conversations with the intent to try to, at least, primarily learn from other folks' lived experiences. But one, it's just very cool to understand how different people have lived, born and raised and lived their lives and the choices they've made and the choices they were made for them. But also just if I can share that with more people that look like me or elsewhere, then hopefully that has some sort of ripple effect. Because when folks sign up for a newsletter, it's like, "Hey, thanks. Here's what to expect." And I just ask one question and I say, "Why are you here?" And they sign up on this big page, it says, "Science for people who give a shit." And it's actually pretty specific.

How many people land on that and go, "Oh, that's me." Because they grew up next to an oil well, they've lost somebody to COVID, breathing the smoke every day. Or they're a policy maker and they're like, "I don't know how to do this shit, but I get constituency yelling at me all day. I didn't know we were doing this. I didn't know our water quality was awful or whatever it might be. I didn't realize the train going through actually had this amount of pollution just because we don't live next to a coal factory. But it gets us every Wednesday when it drives through." It's amazing how many people just are looking for something to connect to and something that they can do about it. Even if it's just following your early Instagram feed, I imagine.

Adam Mahoney:

Well one, it's human nature to want to be a part of community, but also within community to build and whatever that looks like. I'm not saying physically build infrastructure, things like that, but build something. And if that's actionable change for whatever material conditions you're living through, that drive is I think deeply a part of us as human beings. So there's many ways to go about it.

Quinn:

Oh, for sure. And there's so many opportunities now because of these climate impacts. There is infrastructure to build and there's daily to do. We always say, Look, World Central Kitchen does incredible disaster relief and you can donate from your couch while you're watching Game of Thrones or whatever. But they also take volunteer chefs on the ground. If you're in Florida or Puerto Rico, you can go do that work if you have any way you can provide those skills. I mean look at all the rebuilding that has to happen from Ian. Listen to people about what they want and when they need and when FEMA doesn't show up. But if you can provide any sort of skill, guys who had to cut down some old trees, they didn't kill my kids in the neighborhood and they were like, "We got to do it on Friday because Saturday we're driving down to go help." And it's like, Great, anybody can do anything. And there's so... The great thing about climate change is there's so many ways to contribute.

Adam Mahoney:

Yeah. That is it.

Quinn:

Adam, who is someone in your life that's positively impacted your work in the past six months?

Adam Mahoney:

So you already brought her up. I would say Rhiana Gunn-Wright. We had an interview or I interviewed her over the summer about a project that we're working on focused on the reverse migration in the United States and which is, we're in the middle of the reverse of the first two great migrations, which originally saw six to 10 million Black folks leave the south and now hundreds of thousands of black folks are moving back south for a plethora of reasons. But the conversation with her really put it all into perspective for me from the climate angle, I was looking at it from a very doom and gloom place. Oh, we have literally hundreds of thousands of Black people running towards our worst climate impacted places. They're going to be first hit and worst hit. And she, to the point of, I think what we were talking about earlier, the intersectionality she brings to this work, she broke it down to me that, people are doing what they need to do, what is best for them and finding stability in this moment that they're in right now.

And for Black folks, stability has always been unattainable in this country for the most part. And so that's just people doing whatever they can, however little or big to make their life a little bit easier. And a lot of people don't have the ability to look 10 years into the future about what that move might do if they're just trying to escape immediate violence right now. That conversation really opened up my eyes about, oh, this work is not cut and dry. Having someone who is one of the leading voices in the climate circle in this country acknowledge there are climate issues with this phenomena, but there are also social issues that need to be addressed immediately. And Black folks are going to do that in whatever ways possible. It has only made the work more necessary for me right now, which I wouldn't have come to that perspective without her saying, I really appreciated that conversation.

Quinn:

I love that. Well, thank you for sharing that. She's awesome. She's really awesome. All right, last one. What is a book in all your free time you've read this year that has either opened your mind to a topic or conversation you hadn't considered before or has actually changed your thinking in some way? We got a whole list to throw them up on bookshop.

Adam Mahoney:

I'm in the middle of reading Becoming abolitionists by Derecka Purnell about her lived experiences growing up in St. Louis and understanding on the hills of 2020 and the murder of George Floyd and our biggest protest movement in the last however many years. Abolition was thrown into the forefront and it was weilded by political actors to mean a lot of different things and to disrupt the movement. But her book really breaks down the necessity from her perspective and then from her community's perspective on redirecting the millions of dollars from policing and incarceration to community needs.

She starts the book out with connecting environmental justice to police abolition and talking about her community, which has the highest concentration of pollution in St. Louis and is also the highest police community or the most over police community in St. Louis. And how those connections or she lays out those connections and talks about public health, asthma rates, how community members relationships with police took away from or distracted them from the environmental justice issues they were facing. So that would be the book for me. Still reading it, like you said, we don't have that much free time in this industry, but that's the one.

Quinn:

I love that. Thank you for sharing that. I will add it to my list and we'll add it to the list in general. And yeah, I've got three, my wife's always like, "What are you reading?" I'm like, "Well, 40 things for work." Because I keep trying to elevate myself as much as I can and fill in gaps. But also I've got 70 things, she's like, "Haven't you been reading that since August?" I'm like, "Let me be. It's enough." All right, Adam, last thing, where can our listeners follow you and Capital B online?

Adam Mahoney:

Capital B, we're at capitalbnews.org. We have an Atlanta newsletter right now and a national newsletter that you can subscribe to if you can't read stories every day. We send out what is our biggest story of the week and then links to the other stories we published. And on Twitter, it's at Capital B news, same on Facebook and Instagram. And then for my work, you can follow me at Adam L Mahoney and that's the same across all social platforms.

Quinn:

Awesome. And obviously folks, it's a nonprofit, you can contribute to Capital B, same website, help pay folks like Adam to do the incredible work they're doing.

Adam Mahoney:

Yeah, it'd be much, much appreciated.

Quinn:

Of course. I really appreciate you coming today and sharing your journey and your experience. It's really awesome to see news reimagined this way and connecting deeper with the communities who deserve that. Like you said, often for the very first time, there's a lot to learn there and a lot of folks, hopefully we can listen to and help in whatever way we can.

Adam Mahoney:

Yeah, definitely. Thank you for creating this space and it's super important and I really appreciate that emphasis on connecting folks with solutions around them because it does get, especially in the Climate Beat, it is very doom and gloom and people get into their shell and don't want to do the work, but there are ways to do it and fairly easily. So I really appreciate the time you've made for this.

Quinn:

100% man. 100%. I get it, I can crawl into my shell like anybody else when some of these headlines drop. It's not easy. Good news is there's a lot of work to do, so there's always something to do.

That's it. Important, Not Important is Hosted by me, Quinn Emmett. It is produced by Willow Back in Canada. It's edited by Anthony Luciani and the music is by Tim Blaine. You can read our critically acclaimed newsletter and get notified about new podcast conversations at importantnotimportant.com. We've got fantastic T-shirts, hoodies, it's getting cold, coffee mugs, and more at importantnotimportant.com/store. I'm on Twitter at Quinn Emmett or at Important Not Imp. I'm also on LinkedIn, you can search my name or important, not important. You can send feedback or questions or guest suggestions to me on Twitter or at questions at importantnotimportant.com. If you're interested in sponsoring the show, we'd love to have you, but please know we have a high bar for who we can work with. If so, go to importantnotimportant.com/sponsors. It's all on your show notes or the description. That's it. Thank you for listening and thank you for giving a shit.

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