Project for Improved Environmental Coverage Interview of Common Dreams

Common Dreams

Offering: Original news reporting, aggregated stories from progressive media outlets, press releases via an independent newswire, and reader-submitted op-eds, all available online.

Noteworthy Leadership Strategy: Common Dreams was one of the first news content aggregators.


Pull Quote: We don’t think we could honestly cover the world without bringing [the environment] front and center. It’s kind of a foregone conclusion. It’s just how we see the world. –Jon Queally

Progressive News Wire: In 1997,  was created to highlight the best daily news and views for progressives from across the internet. It's first iteration included daily news and views selections and included progressive newswire running press releases from United States and international progressive organizations—nonprofits, NGOs, advocacy groups, many of which are environmental organizations.

Aggregation: From the beginning, began aggregating stories from progressive media outlets, many of which did not have a web presence at that time. Reinvention: Because there are many ways to “self-aggregate” today, including Twitter, RSS, and even Facebook, the need for third-party aggregation has diminished. Recognizing this trend, Common Dreams’s staff now reports original stories, which make up 90 percent of the site’s content.

PIEC: Why did you make the commitment to cover environmental issues as a major topic area?

Jon Queally: It’s been part of Common Dreams’ DNA since the beginning. And the founder, Craig Brown, comes from an environmental activism background. He worked in Congress and as an social justice advocate his whole life, so environmental issues were part and parcel to looking at the world. I think we continue to see it that way. You can’t look at the world and tell people you’re going to cover the news without having environmental issues a key part of that. This has always been the case, but I think increasingly, you see people making those connections between environmental issues and economic issues, and especially so with climate change. It’s a big part of a lot of the stories we see. So it’s sort of inevitable that we do it. We wouldn’t not do it.

PIEC: Do you think aggregation is a scalable model for other news outlets to improve the quantity and quality of their environmental coverage?

Jon Queally: I think it can be. What is aggregation exactly? For us [the definition] certainly changed. We’re a small independent news organization, so when we report on any number of issues, we don’t have direct access to this document or that document or this statement from that person. Our news model is still sometimes based on the reporting of others, but it’s about how you do attribution and how you put together a news story based on other people’s work. I think what Common Dreams proved for many years with a very small staff is that you can do high-quality aggregation somewhat seamlessly if you have your ducks in row and your editorial vision solidified.

I still think there’s a great evolving opportunity for people to crowd source news and look at what independent journalists are doing and what large outlets are doing. One of the things we noticed after surveying the corporate news for many years is that as much as progressive media critics criticize the news, there’s certainly good reporting that happens at mainstream outlets—big newspapers, large news agencies, broadcast news. An any given day [they] are doing great reporting, so you never know where you’ll find the best daily environmental coverage. It could come from any number of sectors. If you’re curious about the world, you have to have your eyes open to where the best stuff is happening. I think that’s the ongoing argument for aggregation.