Mott-funded effort to bolster Great Lakes news coverage expands into Canada

Woman works in a canoe that floats among the rice plants.
Sophia Tore, an environmental technician for Nipissing First Nation, gathers manoomin, or wild rice, from a river in Canada. Similar efforts to restore the traditional food are underway at several other sites in the Great Lakes basin. Screenshot photo: Vanessa Tignanelli / The Narwhal

An award-winning, online Canadian magazine is joining the Great Lakes News Collaborative, a move that will expand and strengthen coverage of water-related issues that affect people and nature on both sides of the lakes.

The Collaborative, which is funded by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, was established in 2020 to enhance news coverage of water issues in the Great Lakes basin. It began with four nonprofit media outlets: Bridge Michigan, Michigan Radio, Detroit Public Television’s Great Lakes Now program and Circle of Blue.

The Narwhal, an online news outlet based in Victoria, British Columbia, is the fifth nonprofit — and first Canadian — media outlet to join the Collaborative. Named after a toothed whale that has been called the “unicorn of the sea,” The Narwhal covers the environment and climate issues across Canada. It also places a priority on including the perspectives of Indigenous people in its articles.

A map has the shorelines of Great Lakes coverage highlighted.

With Mott funding, The Narwhal’s Toronto-based Ontario Bureau will increase its coverage of environmental issues across the sprawling north shores of the Great Lakes, from western Lake Superior to the east end of Lake Ontario. That area encompasses about 1,200 miles of shoreline along the north side of lakes Superior, Huron, Erie and Ontario.

“The Narwhal is thrilled to collaborate with a dedicated group of journalists on both sides of the border who are sharing vital stories about the future of the Great Lakes,” said Emma Gilchrist, editor in chief and co-founder of the Canadian news outlet.

“Nature knows no borders, so it’s fitting that coverage of these shared bodies of water needs to cross boundaries as well,” Gilchrist added. “We are especially excited to feature the rich and long-standing relationship that Indigenous people have with the Great Lakes.”

The Narwhal strives to include Indigenous voices in all its articles, like that of Chief Greg Nadjiwon of the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation. Photo: Christopher Katsarov Luna / The Narwhal

Since the Collaborative was formed in 2020, the original four media outlets have collectively achieved a 47% increase in the number of Great Lakes and water-related articles they produce annually. During that same period, those outlets more than doubled their audience engagement, according to data compiled by Circle of Blue, Bridge Michigan, Michigan Radio and Detroit Public Television.

In 2022, the Collaborative won the US Water Prize for a series of news articles called Water’s True Cost. The series examined the origins of the water infrastructure crisis in Michigan, which has an abundance of surface freshwater but many of the same water problems affecting other states in the Great Lakes region.

Since its founding in 2018, The Narwhal has become a leading source of environmental news in Canada. The publication has won numerous national awards for outstanding news coverage, photojournalism and multimedia features.

Covering the impacts of climate change on Great Lakes ecosystems and Indigenous communities is a priority for The Narwhal. Screenshot photo: Damien Gilbert / The Narwhal

“We’re thrilled to have The Narwhal join the Collaborative,” said Kimberly Gleffe, an Environment program officer at Mott. “This new partnership will dramatically increase the geographic reach of the Collaborative and bring more Indigenous voices to its coverage of water issues in the Great Lakes basin.”

Collectively, the five Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River make up the world’s largest freshwater ecosystem. They contain 21% of all available surface freshwater on the planet and support the world’s third largest regional economy.

Despite their vast size, the Great Lakes are vulnerable to human-induced impacts. Climate change, invasive species and habitat loss are causing problems across the basin, legacy pollutants linger in several harbors, and some fish are only safe to eat on a limited basis due to chemical contaminants.

Great Lakes News Collaborative member logos.

Kelly House, an environment reporter for Bridge Michigan, said many areas of the lakes have common problems, and some solutions require action by multiple U.S. states and the province of Ontario.

“Bridge is a Michigan-focused publication, but when it comes to our shared Great Lakes water, issues affecting one part of our region affect us all,” House said. “We’re excited to partner with The Narwhal to give readers a fuller perspective on our region’s most prized natural resources.”

Denise Balkissoon, Ontario Bureau Chief for The Narwhal, said Mott funding will enable reporters and photographers to travel to more sites across the north shores of the Great Lakes to cover critical issues.

“This will help make the Great Lakes a more regular part of our coverage,” Balkissoon said. “And it’s exciting to get more people around the Great Lakes to know about The Narwhal.”