Mysterious eco group is funding local climate journalism: ‘Advocacy dressed up as news reporting’

A little-known environmental organization founded by the heir of a billion-dollar fortune has quietly organized large grants for local news outlets to boost climate change coverage and, sometimes, hire new climate reporters. 

The North Carolina-based 1Earth Fund states on its website that it was founded to ‘fund cost-effective communication projects that can reach audiences across the political divide.’ The group markets itself as a counter to ‘disinformation campaigns’ funded by fossil fuel companies.

While little else is publicly shared about 1Earth Fund’s operations, the group adds on its site that it funds ‘projects like Connected Coastlines,’ a nationwide climate reporting initiative in coastal states overseen by the Pulitzer Center. The project’s list of partners includes The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, Miami Herald, Seattle Times and Orlando Sentinel.

‘The initiative is building a consortium of newsrooms and independent journalists across America to report on the local effects of erratic weather patterns on coastal populations using the latest climate science,’ the Pulitzer Center states.

‘Currently, the Pulitzer Center is supporting 16 reporting projects and will cover climate change issues on every coastline in the mainland U.S. — the East Coast, Great Lakes, Gulf Coast and West Coast — along with Hawaii and Alaska,’ it continues.

One such reporting project is titled ‘State of Change’ and is based in North Carolina. The Pulitzer Center highlights six grantees who are journalists tasked with showcasing ‘the effects of climate change: sea level rise, ocean acidification, coastal erosion, more powerful storms, global warming, etc., and its impact on communities and individuals.’ Their work has largely been published by a local PBS affiliate.

There are additional Connected Coastlines projects in Florida, Maine, California, Louisiana and Alaska.

1Earth Fund is also listed as a sponsor of the Climate Reporting Masterclass, a project designed to help journalists report on climate change. Partners of the project include government agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

In addition, 1Earth Fund has partnered with various non-profit organizations to send direct grants to newsrooms located throughout the Southeast. The grants include a $65,000 grant to USA Today affiliate Wilmington News-Star in North Carolina, a $50,000 grant to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) in Georgia and a grant to The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun in North Carolina. Articles published in the Winston-Salem Journal in North Carolina have also been funded by a 1Earth Fund grant.

Articles produced with financial support from 1Earth Fund grants or by reporters funded by such grants often promote green energy and warn of dangers posed by global warming. 

Examples published over the last 12 months include a News & Observer story with the headline ‘Sea change: NC is starting to make progress on wind energy, but lags other states’ and a Winston-Salem Journal article titled ‘100% green energy in NC would cut costs, spark job growth, study says.’

1Earth Fund’s founder, meanwhile, is Roy Richards Jr., the current chairman of the Southwire Company, a massive electrical wire and cable company that provides products for renewable energy projects. Richards Jr.’s father founded Southwire, which has grown into a billion-dollar company, in 1937. The company has committed to various climate goals and to support green energy development.

Still, the newspapers that have received financial support from 1Earth Fund have said the group doesn’t influence their editorial judgment. When asked about 1Earth Fund’s ties to the Southwire Company, a spokesperson for the AJC said the outlet maintains ‘strict editorial independence at all times to protect journalistic integrity.’

‘In addition, we include a disclosure to every climate story supported through this partnership,’ Jaime Sarrio McMurtrie, AJC’s director of development and community relations, told Fox News Digital in an email. ‘The funders of this grant have never made any attempt to review, influence or shape our coverage, nor would we entertain efforts to do so.’

However, a resume belonging to Sarah Barr — who is both a climate science research fellow for the Environmental Protection Agency and an independent contractor for the 1Earth Fund, according to her LinkedIn page — provides additional insight into 1Earth Fund’s operations.

Barr’s resume states that she helped 1Earth Fund achieve its mission of ‘raising the public mandate for climate action,’ researched which outlets to ‘target’ with climate initiatives, identified the most prominent newspapers in swing electoral districts, tracked ‘journalist output of climate stories’ before and after they received funding to ensure effectiveness, and ensured that potential collaborators aligned with 1Earth Fund’s stances.

‘It’s advocacy dressed up as news reporting,’ Brian Balfour — the senior vice president of research at the North Carolina-based free market think tank John Locke Foundation — told Fox News Digital in an interview. ‘I find it problematic that these pieces are published on news pages rather than opinion pages because there’s a lot of advocacy contained in these articles.’

‘1Earth Fund is funded by a chairman of a company that seeks to gain financially from more of a transition to renewable energy,’ Balfour continued. ‘The articles are sympathetic and almost promotional to renewable energy sources.’

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Peter Daniel Sr., the chairman of the NC Ag Partnership, a North Carolina agriculture trade group, added that the newspapers receiving funding from 1Earth Fund have recently published articles critical of the state’s agriculture industry. He noted that many of the outlets that received grants are owned by McClatchy, a large media conglomerate that owns local papers nationwide.

‘North Carolina proudly leads the country in supplying healthy and affordable poultry products. That our state helps feed the world should be a source of pride,’ Daniel Sr. told Fox News Digital. ‘Yet the McClatchy media operation, whose reporters are literally paid by a secretive network of climate activists called the 1Earth Fund, launched a full-frontal assault on our state’s poultry industry last month.’

‘We do not know if those donors pressed McClatchy to attack the industry,’ he continued. ‘We do not know if the news organization cast the poultry industry in a negative light because it hopes to receive yet more money from the 1Earth Fund.’ 

He said that McClatchy has been tight-lipped about the details of its relationship with 1Earth Fund.

‘The notion that McClatchy doesn’t consider the agenda of the special interest donors who pay their reporters’ salaries is ridiculous,’ Daniel Sr. said. ‘We’re entering a startling new frontier when secretive donor networks pay journalists who claim their work is ‘objective.’’

1Earth Fund, McClatchy and the Pulitzer Center didn’t respond to requests for comment.

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