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My go-to example of impactful journalism

Reflecting on the past 25 years at Mongabay, it is evident that impactful journalism can drive meaningful change. Our work has contributed to significant outcomes, from exposing trafficking of pygmy sloths in Panama to informing a state decision to convert 101,000 hectares from a logging concession to a reserve in Borneo.

My go-to example of the influence journalism can wield comes from Peru.

In 2014, United Cacao raised millions through an IPO in London, presenting itself as a responsible corporate entity. However, satellite images revealed large-scale forest clearing in the Peruvian Amazon, contradicting their claims. Mongabay exposed this destruction of one of the planet’s most biodiverse regions.

Despite legal threats, our investigation proceeded, based on irrefutable scientific data from Global Forest Watch, Amazon Conservation / Conservación Amazónica – ACCA, Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo (SPDE), and others. The resulting series drew international attention, prompting activist NGOs like the Environmental Investigation Agency to launch advocacy campaigns and leading the local government to revoke the company’s permits.

By January 2017, United Cacao was delisted from the stock exchange, depriving it of the critical capital it needed to expand.

Subsequent reporting uncovered that the company’s owner had connections to multiple palm oil and cacao ventures, potentially threatening nearly 100,000 hectares of forest, which stored around 29M tons of CO2.

Years later, a successor company sued us for defamation over our reporting. This case was dismissed, setting a precedent for defending against SLAPP suits in Peru.

Several elements contributed to the impact of this story, which are broadly illustrative of the types of reporting that are most likely to contribute to impact:

🔭 Clear identification of issues and actors: Highlighting specific misconduct helps readers grasp the problem and enables authorities to address it provided there’s the political will to do so.

🔬 Evidence and documentation: Providing solid evidence lends credibility, making the case undeniable.

🌳 Tangible impact: Demonstrating the broader effects of the issue makes the story relatable and urgent, encouraging action.

🌈 Actionable solutions: Suggesting steps to address the problem can increase the story’s influence.

Accountability mechanisms: Identifying legal and regulatory avenues can contribute to concrete outcomes.

📈 Broad relevance and context: Framing the story within a larger trend attracts wider attention.

Engagement and follow-up: Encouraging sustained reader involvement through follow-up actions maintains momentum.

🖼 Visuals and multimedia: Powerful visuals make the story more compelling and accessible.

🕒 Timeliness: Reporting during key moments maximizes relevance and impact.

These elements collectively demonstrate how journalism can effect real-world change, increasing the likelihood that stories lead to substantive outcomes.

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.