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How can ocean conservation get more news coverage?

Ray Dearborn's picture
on February 23, 2015 - 1:38pm

A conversation with Lindsay Abrams of Salon

This was originally published at Medium. Read the full interview there.

NGOs and journalists don’t have to act like oil and water, despite what individuals in each industry say when they get a chance to air their gripes. As my organization, Upwell, prepares to shut its doors, I wanted to make an effort to bridge the gap between the ocean conservation community and the news media. I reached out to a few journalist friends of Upwell to get their perspective on what makes a great ocean story, how ocean scientists and advocates can better work with them, and what drives engagement from their audiences.

Today I share the first of those conversations, with Lindsay Abrams of Salon.

Lindsay has a pretty broadly defined sustainability beat at Salon. In just the new year, she’s covered ocean topics like the long-term effects of the BP oil spill, Arctic drilling, ocean warming, mass extinction in our oceans, and more. As far as climate and sustainability reporters go, she’s one of the few giving the ocean its fair shake amongst other environmental topics.

A little background on why I approached Lindsay: For three years I have been leading campaigns for Upwell. By playing in online conversations for years and doing in depth conversational analysis, we’ve learned what drives attention to conservation issues. Time and again we find that news coverage is the primary driver of attention to lesser known ocean conservation issues. While topics like shark conservation and plastic pollution frequently garner attention in the absence of news coverage, more unfamiliar topics like ocean acidification or deep sea trawling need attention from journalists and bloggers in order to spark conversation.

People aren’t talking about ocean acidification of their own volition, at least not in droves. Not yet. People do start talking about it when they have something to share, and that “something” is most often a news article or a blog post from an established media platform. This doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions (for instance, people-powered mobilisation, or attention motivated by pop culture influence), but it is the prevailing trend that we see in our Big Listening work. (For more on how people talk about ocean acidification, check out our recently released State of the Online Conversation report.)

I’m using the term “media” inclusively, to capture all shades of grey in today’s increasingly complex media landscape. Attention is driven not just by legacy media like the New York Times and the Washington Post, but also the media platforms that were born of the Internet like Quartz, Medium, Buzzfeed and Vox.

Despite this correlation between media coverage and attention, media relations and PR professionals in ocean nonprofits and scientific institutions struggle to craft the perfect pitch and share their content in a way that makes it likely to get covered by journalists and bloggers. My hope is that this interview will help people on both sides to do their jobs and raise attention to critical ocean conservation issues.

Read the full interview at

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