The Business of Mongabay

Mongabay’s 25th birthday

On June 8, 1999, Mongabay was officially launched. So today is officially Mongabay’s 25th birthday.

Over the past several days, many people have been asked about the history of Mongabay.

This an extended version:

Here’s a brief version:

I founded Mongabay out of my love for tropical forests. The site’s initial model was based on advertising, enabling it to grow from a personal passion project into a news service covering issues at the intersection of people and nature. But Mongabay was a 2-person entity its first decade-plus.

In late 2011, I established a non-profit to create an Indonesian-language news service to address a critical need in one of the world’s most biologically diverse countries. I believed credible, independent journalism could increase transparency and accountability around natural resources management. Shortly after its launch in mid-2012, Mongabay-Indonesia became the most widely-read and influential Indonesian-language environmental news service.

I eventually transitioned Mongabay’s news to the non-profit. Over time, we added other regional bureaus, including Spanish for Latin America (2016), English and Hindi for India (2018), and English and French for Africa (2023). We also produce Portuguese reporting for Brazil.

Shifting from an advertising-based model to a non-profit model allowed us to focus on the impact of our journalism. We started giving away our articles for anyone to use, commercially or non-commercially, expanding our reach and amplifying our impact. We deprioritized metrics like website pageviews, focusing instead on qualitative indicators such as what decision-makers read our content and the specific developments following our reporting.

As we’ve built a global reporting network of contributing journalists across 80 countries, we’ve seen strong interest in programs that provide opportunities for local reporters to strengthen their reporting skills and build a portfolio of published work. Accordingly, in 2022 we established a paid fellowship program for aspiring and transitional journalists in low- and middle-income countries. Today, the fellowship is available in English, Spanish, and French. A pilot for fellows from Indigenous communities is launching soon.

To support this approach, Mongabay has developed methods to track impacts related to our reporting, built a decentralized management structure granting substantial autonomy to its bureaus, and established mechanisms for timely cross-border payments to contributors.

Today our websites attract a monthly readership of typically around 5 million unique visitors. Our reach is further amplified via social media and distribution by third party media outlets. Each year, we produce about 5,000 original stories, several hundred videos, and around 100 podcast episodes.

Mongabay and its reporters have received many accolades, including the Biophilia Award (2023) and various prizes from the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ).

Thanks for your interest!

By Rhett Ayers Butler

Rhett Ayers Butler is the Founder and CEO of Mongabay, a non-profit conservation and environmental science news platform. He started Mongabay in 1999 with the mission of raising interest in and appreciation of wild lands and wildlife.