The awards by the Heinz Family Philanthropies are given annually in memory of the late Sen. John Heinz of Pennsylvania by the foundation headed by his widow, Teresa Heinz Kerry. They honor people outstanding in the fields of environment, arts and humanities, the human condition, public policy, technology, the economy and employment.
Two recipients are folks I’ve had some contact with, and wish I had more.
Chip Giller is the super-smart, super-dedicated founder of one of our favorite sources of enviro news, Grist.org. If you haven’t checked it out, you’re shorting yourself. Chip is truly an internet pioneer, building Grist with the motto: “Gloom and doom with a sense of humor.” (And also: “A beacon in the smog.”)
Starting primarily as a news aggregator propelled by funny, catchy headlines and operating on a shoestring, Grist has built itself into a 25-person operation that today has oodles of original content. They put a special Grist spin on topics from consumer info to the international politics of climate change.
And it’s fun! Not to mention unapologetically pro-green — but with careful attention to the standards of journalism.
Here’s part of what Chip had to say in his column on the award (headline: “Wow: the Heinz Award (or, hands off my mic, Kanye!)”)
When I started Grist in 1999, environmentalism was a different beast: old, tired, uncool, way too earnest. I wanted to inject some levity into a movement known for taking itself too seriously, and to reach new audiences, people who would never call themselves environmentalists. Grist started as an email sent to just a few hundred people, and we’ve had success beyond what I could have imagined. We’ve done it with humor, we’ve done it with substantive coverage, and most of all, we’ve done it by proving that those two things aren’t mutually exclusive.
Also check out Grist’s coverage of the award.
I met Chip about 10 years ago. Later, during a newspaper strike here in Seattle, we agreed I would do a sort of unpaid internship at Grist to see how the operation worked. It was a much smaller outfit then. The day before I was to start, the end of the strike was announced. I’ve always wondered how my life might have been different if that strike had gone on a little longer and I”d caught on at Grist.
The other person I know on the Heinz list I haven’t even met in person: Dee Boersma of the University of Washington. I’ve only interviewed her by telephone a few times, and was glad each time I did.
Boersma technically is a penguin scientist. But she’s one of those conservation biologists who has gone so far beyond her particular specialty to understand the natural world and what we’re doing to it that it just doesn’t do to call her a penguin scientist. That would be like calling E.O. Wilson an ant researcher.
She is well-known by fellow scientists as a researcher with far-reaching knowledge and insights into issues such as climate change and the ocean food chain. Example: she was lead author of a book on invasive species in the Puget Sound region.
Once, when the mega-enviro-study by the United Nations known as the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment came out, my editor tossed me a wire story in the late afternoon with orders to localize it.
Knowing Boersma had such wide-ranging knowledge, I caught up with her around dinnertime. It turned out she had been one of the scientists well-though-of enough by the U.N. to be asked to review the draft. A life-saver for my story.
For the other recipients of the Heinz Awards, go here. Each one gets $100,000 and a lot of attention.
Update 9/16 12:56 p.m.: The Grist staff made a light-hearted video about Giller’s winning the prize.
— Robert McClure