Ogden alumnae investigates the powerful interests holding back climate action through nonprofit newsroom ‘Floodlight’

July 18, 2022

In her first semester at the Ogden Honors College, Emily Holden took what turned out to be a formative class–HNRS 2000: Critical Analysis and Social Responsibility with Associate Dean Granger Babcock.

At the time, the course investigated how societies have failed, including in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and other large-scale crises. The work inspired Holden to write her honors thesis, “News that isn’t ‘fit to print.’” The thesis argued “Hurricane Katrina unveiled many weaknesses in both government organization and mass media practices that exacerbated the natural effects of the storm.” Directed by Professor Regina Lawrence in the Manship School of Mass Communications, the project helped Holden earn College Honors.

Fifteen years later, Holden is still using what she learned in that course as the founder and editor-in-chief of Floodlight — a 501(c)(3) nonprofit newsroom (https://www.floodlightnews.org/) supported by philanthropic grants from foundations and gifts from individuals.

Floodlight's goal is to investigate “the powerful interests stalling climate action,” by partnering with local journalists and co-publishing nationally. 

“I always wanted to be a journalist. I knew that since high school, but I could not have imagined that this would end up being my specialty,” said Holden. “I didn't want climate coverage to be just a business reporting beat for me. I wanted to be able to think about, ‘what do all these decisions mean for real people on the ground in places like Louisiana, where I'm from.’ And I think a lot of that came from the way that I started thinking in that first honors college class with Dr. Babcock.”

Holden is an investigative environmental journalist with a decade of reporting experience in Washington, D.C. She was most recently the Washington environment correspondent for the Guardian. She has written for Politico, E&E News and CQ Roll Call. Her work has also been published in The Arizona Republic, the Baton Rouge Advocate, the Houston Chronicle, and Gannett newspapers. 

Holden has covered the White House, federal agencies, Congress, the courts, and electricity regulation, through the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations. She grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where her father works in the oil industry. 

In 2021, Holden realized another approach to the topic was necessary. One of Floodlight’s core missions is to change the mass media practices she highlighted in her thesis that have caused many major publications to shy away from holding corporations and politicians accountable for climate change in the name of balance and fairness. Holden says when reporters don’t cover those stories, they fail to meet other journalistic standards, such as accuracy and truth. 

“We acknowledge that the climate crisis is here and it's a major problem, but we don’t do advocacy work or anything in the political sphere,” she said of Floodlight and its team of six.
“We want to bring that reporting to people directly and make sure they understand it and make sure that they're a part of it and that they know where to go if they want to be involved, but we do not necessarily want to tell them how they should be involved.” 

As a nonpartisan organization, Floodlight remains objective and does not offer policy solutions to the climate crisis. As a member of the Institute for Nonprofit News, Floodlight subscribes to its standards of editorial independence to retain full authority over editorial content.     

By collaborating with local journalists Holden hopes she is filling a gap between the kind of reporting seen nationally and what is possible locally. “The journalism research shows that people trust local news much more, it's just closer to them,” she said. “That's part of why we do our work with local news because we saw a real opportunity for national reporters like myself to provide some subject area expertise and investigative resources to local reporters who really know the area and the backstory of where they are from to help inform people locally and nationally.” 

As Floodlight expands, Holden wants to help bring more investigative resources to environmental impacts and to provide access to free, local news. In Louisiana, Floodlight partners with The Lens and the Illuminator, and most stories also co-publish in the Guardian. 

The newsroom covers climate change nationwide, but has a focus on the Gulf Coast. In addition to its managing editor and an investigative reporter being in the state, Floodlight is now advertising two new openings — a Louisiana-based climate justice/accountability reporter and a Gulf Coast editor.