Sierra Club Magazine: Fusion’s Project Earth is Creating Eco-Docs Tailored for Millennials

Mar 3, 2018

By: Katie O’Reilly

POOR MILLENNIALS. The media seems to love nothing more than obsessing over, and lambasting, the idiosyncrasies of that generation of Americans born roughly between 1980 and 2000. Millennials are, supposedly, narcissistic, entitled, tech-obsessed brats who are responsible for everything from killing casual dining to flooding us with cat memes. But here’s something you might not have heard: Millennials are also far more environmentally aware than other generations.

Enter Nicolás “Nico” Ibargüen. He’s the environment correspondent for Fusion, the Univision-backed digital media company geared toward young and diverse audiences. Armed with evidence that millennials prefer consuming news via video, Ibargüen launched Project Earth in 2016. The online platform creates short, star-powered, and eminently shareable documentary films to explore those issues poised to most affect Generation Y—climate change, mass extinction, and changes to the food supply.

In less than two years, Project Earth has produced hundreds of hours’ worth of two- to three-minute documentaries, pithy explainers, and occasional long-form investigations that are custom-made to appeal to adventure travelers, foodies, and activists. The popular Shark Land, for example, explores the ecosystem of Costa Rica’s Cocos Island, one of the world’s most vibrant shark habitats, and stars free diver and actor Adrian Grenier. Various explainers break down why wine, cheese, and coffee are under threat from rising temperatures. The series Animal Mafia follows a mob boss turned animal rights activist as he goes undercover to infiltrate Africa’s criminal poaching rings.

“It’s about touching people in ways that’ll spark conversations,” Ibargüen says, noting that social-media-savvy millennials are the most likely to share online journalism. Not surprisingly, this second “me generation” (their baby boomer parents were, infamously, the first) likes when news gets, well, personal. “People may know that polar bears or rhinos are going extinct but not understand how that will affect their own lives,” Ibargüen says. “We try to bridge those connections—to show, for instance, how no sharks means no reefs, which means no surfing.”

Ibargüen, who was born in Colombia, is also after North America’s population of young Spanish speakers. “Every time I go on a filming expedition, I try to invite a native Spanish speaker,” he says. The Spanish audio is often cut into separate versions of Project Earth pieces. Later this year, Project Earth will partner with Televisa, Mexico’s largest TV network, to broadcast short films as well as feature-length documentaries.

“There’s all this research saying young people don’t like long form, but we’ve found that if they care about the topic, they’ll sit down and watch,” Ibargüen says. While there’s no standard serving of Project Earth, its upbeat, MTV-reminiscent pieces consistently conclude with actionable ways viewers can rally support for lands conservation and endangered species. “We try to empower people to become part of the change,” Ibargüen says, “rather than feeling powerless and depressed.”

Project Earth’s impact extends well beyond mitigating millennials’ eco-blues. In 2017, an investigative piece titled Off the Shelf led CVS and Walgreens to ban pills containing the cartilage of certain sharks. After Ibargüen focused his lens on Florida’s controversial black bear hunt, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission prohibited bear hunting. “We can’t claim credit,” Ibargüen says, “but I think we helped fuel pushback.”

Whether they’re inspiring the up-and-coming generation of activists or simply making carbon emissions less cool, the producers, journalists, and illustrators behind Project Earth are reaching more than 2 million viewers per month. “If you talk to young people in a way that makes them feel they’re being included,” Ibargüen notes, “it’s not hard to gain their trust.”

This article appeared in the March/April 2018 edition with the headline “Not Your Grandma’s Eco-Doc.”

Source: Sierra Club Magazine

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