Editor’s Desk: Partnerships work, James Beard edition

By Theodore Ross

All of us at FERN were thrilled to learn earlier this week that we were a three-time finalist at the James Beard Media Awards, in collaboration with two of our valued partners.

One nomination was in the “Food Coverage in a General Interest Publication” category, for a full magazine issue we co-published on the subject of food, in partnership with Switchyard, the excellent new literary magazine from the University of Tulsa. We were also nominated in the “Foodways” category, also for work in the Switchyard special issue, for Jori Lewis’s brilliant essay on the cultural and social history of the watermelon for Black Americans, “Tell me why the watermelon grows.”

Not to brag, although that’s exactly what I’m doing, but our work with Switchyard was already a finalist for a National Magazine Award, and Jori’s essay was selected for the 2024 edition of Best American Food and Travel Writing. Adding to that is our nomination, also in “Foodways,” for a story in partnership with Grist, by Julia O’Malley, on the effects on a remote Alaskan Indigenous community of the collapse of the snow crab fishery.

I edited my first story in partnership with a nonprofit news organization about 15 years ago, and my bosses at that publication couldn’t bring themselves to acknowledge the collaboration in print. When the story came out, my counterpart at the nonprofit loudly chewed me out in an email. (If you’re wondering whether an email can be loud – trust me.) 

Times have changed, and with them the norms for how the media industry works. I don’t mean to say that the power in publishing has shifted toward nonprofits. That’s not how we think about it. As journalists, and particularly as journalists with a specific mission about food and the environment, we succeed best when we succeed with help from others. Partnership is both why and how we exist.

But I am happy that the current era in journalism has increased space for committed, rigorous, and talented journalists like the ones I am lucky enough to work with here at FERN and collaborate with at our partners.

I hope you will read these stories, and if you find them important – and I think you will – please consider making a donation. We believe in this work, and we rely on others who believe in it to help us keep doing it.

As to the awards themselves, people like to say that it’s an honor just to be nominated – and it is! But here at FERN we’re a little bit competitive, too. So fingers crossed!