"Thinking about where our food comes from isn't just for moms who care about what their kids are eating. It's political," says Naomi Starkman, co-founder and editor of the food policy news site Civil Eats. When Starkman and Paula Crossfield founded the website in 2009, the goal was to hold a magnifying glass to the politics surrounding the food industry and raise awareness among consumers. They had no budget, no full-time employees and no salary; they ran the website on a volunteer basis. But Starkman knew there was a gap in the food journalism market, and she was determined to fill it.
Six years later, Civil Eats has earned $100,000 in funding via a successful Kickstarter campaign; it was awarded the 2014 James Beard Award for Publication of the Year; it can afford to pay its reporters; and it has cultivated a strong following of die-hard fans. (Starkman, who was named a 2015–2016 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford, still doesn't give herself a salary.) F&W spoke to the editor about her roundabout entry into the food journalism business and the challenges of monetizing a mission-driven publication.
Your path into food journalism was circuitous. What led you to launch Civil Eats?
I started my career as a lawyer, and I worked in public policy. But over time I started to feel that when it came to raising awareness about certain issues, the media had the ability to move the needle further, faster. So I quit my job and moved to New York to find work at the intersection of policy and communications. Once I was there, I decided to throw myself into the media full force. I started off in corporate communications and spent years working as a freelance media consultant.