Fresh Spotlight: Sharing critical stories on clean energy and climate via the Energy News Network

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The Energy News Network team.

Every day, there are a slew of conversations being held about technical, complex topics and developments in the clean energy and climate spaces. And honest, unbiased, fact-based information about many of those topics and conversations—with the detail required to fully understand and become actively engaged participants in relevant local and regional happenings—can often be hard to come by.

Mainstream news outlets are taking climate change more seriously than they did a decade ago, but there’s still a need for reporting on the people taking up the challenge at the state and local level. That’s where the Energy News Network, an editorially independent arm of the Fresh Energy team, has filled a critical gap, shining a light on energy decision-making and elevating diverse stories in the transition to a zero-carbon economy.

With a portfolio of five daily digests covering energy and climate-related developments, including the Midwest, Southeast, Northeast, and Western regions of the United States as well as a national U.S. Energy News digest, Ken, Dan, Lani, and Kathryn play an active role in breaking down barriers to understanding what’s up in the energy world, who’s involved, and how communities across the U.S. are responding. And, starting September 21, 2022, the team is excited to share a new weekly newsletter long requested by readers that will offer a wider look at the energy landscape for those interested in clean energy and how it plays into the fight against climate change.

Though the team has evolved over the years, the vision for the Energy News Network has remained the same. How has that vision driven the team to where it now stands?

Independent, industry-leading journalism

Ken in northern New Hampshire in 2019. Photo/Ken Paulman.

When asked how he got into this work, Ken Paulman, director of the Energy News Network (ENN), is clear on the vision Fresh Energy had for the program when it first began in 2010. “Storytelling helps build empathy and helps us understand the world better. When we started, there wasn’t nearly enough coverage in existing media spaces, so that’s the problem we set out to help solve.” He adds, “It’s gotten better, particularly at the national level, but with state level issues that we focus on, there’s still very much a need for the work we do—and we hear that all the time from both readers and sources.”

Dan and his family. Photo/Dan Haugen.

Dan Haugen, managing editor with ENN, is a veteran of the program, having been a key member of ENN since 2011. In its early days, Energy News Network was strictly “Midwest Energy News,” and Dan was, at the time, a full-time freelance journalist covering a business beat for several journalism publications. “But my niche,” he says, “was green business and sustainability. And that was right around the time Midwest Energy News was looking for freelance writers.”

In Dan’s eyes, ENN stands out from his time working for daily newspapers because the storytelling is focused on impact. “In my previous work, I had to be obsessed with pageviews, and to maximize that, you have to churn out low-impact stories. Here, we publish a lower volume of stories, but every single one has an impact—and we track that. It’s a big distinction.”

Kathryn in a self-described “very horse girl photo.” Photo/Kathryn Krawczyk.

Associate Editor for Newsletter and Multiplatform Kathryn Krawczyk shares that she got into journalism for the same reason lots of people do: “I wanted to learn about everything, and it worked out. I loved writing and editing and being nitpicky about grammar.”

And journalism proved to be a worthy outlet, though Kathryn notes that, before joining ENN, she was writing for a more general, national publication. “I was getting sick of writing a lot of horse-racey stories on politics. I wanted to be part of something more impactful. And climate change seemed like the biggest problem we’re aiming to tackle as a society—so it felt like the right place to be. It feels meaningful, and that feels nice,” she remarks.

Lani and her partner Charlie on a trip to San Francisco. Photo/Lani Hanson.

For Senior Editor Lani Hanson, this career and where it’s led her wasn’t always focused on climate. “It started out as less of a climate journey and more of a journalism journey that intersected with climate, and now it’s so intertwined,” she admits. The desire for greater impact is a shared experience among the ENN team, and Lani was no outlier. “I worked for a year and a half in a very corporate, traditional newsroom—and it was fun. It was what I thought I wanted to do for the rest of my life. But I was editing a lot of things that didn’t seem like they had much impact beyond getting views and advertising revenue.”

Lani says that her role at ENN felt like an opportunity to change that—and be part of an organization that cares about employees as people. The reality of climate change and being part of the solution was a bonus. “My climate journey really started when I got here. It’s the kind of thing that, once you hit a certain point of knowledge about climate change, you can’t really ignore it anymore.”

Telling authentic, dignified stories that inspire change

Where does journalism fit in the vision toward achieving a just, prosperous, and resilient future powered by a shared commitment to a carbon-neutral economy? Ken says, “Journalism itself doesn’t advance policy. But you can’t advance policy without journalism. If there isn’t credible, reliable, public information—without credible journalists covering the story—especially in a sea of misinformation and sometimes just nonsense, it’s that much harder for advocates to do their job.”

Particularly in a field where conversations can easily veer toward more in-the-weeds concepts that are less known and harder to understand for people who don’t come from technical audiences, it’s critical that people still have access to information and reporting about what is happening in clean energy and climate spaces and how it intersects with their lives. And that’s why the team is so excited to kick off the new weekly newsletter.

“We wanted to bring a new audience into the ENN fold,” Kathryn says, “people who are more broadly interested in clean energy—who don’t know as much about it but want to know how it fits into the climate conversation. Clean energy hasn’t always been talked about in that context.” Together, Kathryn and Lani spearheaded this new ENN product, walking through a thorough feedback and insight process with advisors, key stakeholders, and readers themselves to create and build something sought after by their readers.

“We want to make sure that what we’re spending time on is actually providing value for people,” Lani says, “both those we’re already connected with and those we find along the way. This weekly newsletter lets us do that in a new way and creates a hunger for more information without changing our daily digests, which people love.”

In a factory-like environment, several men wearing hard hats stand around, discussing things.
ENN staff and reporters hold relationships with a number of industry professionals and community leaders across the territories they report on. Pictured here is reporter Kevin Stark.

The weekly newsletter is part of a broader intention to continue expanding and nourishing ENN’s relationships and partnerships, whether that’s with other news organizations around the country or with people who want to support ENN’s independent journalism. “Developing relationships and partnerships is how we reach new audiences, as well as cover parts of the country we don’t always get a chance to cover,” notes Dan. Ken adds, “Collaboration is becoming very much the norm in the nonprofit news sector. It serves the public best when we get stories out through a variety of different outlets.”

While the team adjusts to new additions to their individual and team workloads—like the weekly newsletter—they all agree that remaining a strong, cohesive team with a shared mission and vision is paramount. In Ken’s words: “The work that we do is always evolving in some ways, but in others, it stays the same—the fundamental mission hasn’t changed.”

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