The Open Notebook is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that provides tools and resources to help science journalists at all experience levels hone their craft.
Science journalism is changing, but the ability to recognize and sharpen important ideas, ask incisive questions about complex subjects, and tell accurate, compelling stories — often on shorter deadlines and with fewer reporting and editorial resources than ever before — will always be essential. The best science journalists do not merely translate the latest scientific discoveries into lay language, but provide nuanced context and critical analysis. Well-trained journalists can explain how a new finding fits into previous research, why the research matters, and where important tensions and debates lie. And they shed light on the human characters behind the findings, understanding that scientists are fallible and scientific advancement is cumulative.
Such expert synthesis and critical analysis takes thoughtfulness and skill. The Open Notebook is the only online resource dedicated to science journalism as craft.
What We Do
- In our popular Story-Behind-the-Story interviews, The Open Notebook asks science journalists to deconstruct their working process, from inception to completion. These features, edited for length and clarity, also typically include supplementary materials such as pitch letters, notes, draft excerpts, edits, and other behind-the-scenes resources that illustrate how one story evolved over time.
- Our Elements of Craft reported features focus on specific elements of the craft of science journalism — for example, finding an effective narrative structure; taking good notes; finding and sharpening story ideas; or pitching stories well.
- The Open Notebook’s Ask TON advice column invites our audience to privately submit craft-related questions, which we then pose to experienced writers and editors, allowing journalists of all experience levels to tap into the expertise of their peers.
- The TON pitch database is a searchable resource containing dozens of successful feature queries to a wide range of publications. This unique tool gives science journalists the opportunity to study the first — and often the most difficult — step in producing outstanding science stories.
- Part practical guidance, part writerly voyeurism, TON’s Natural Habitat series visits science writers in their working spaces — from home offices to coffee shops to hammocks — and invites them to share the accoutrements that help them do their best work. In the same vein, our A Day in the Life series asks science journalists to break down the habits and tricks and must-have tools that get them through the day. Our Single Best series provides quick nuggets of winning advice.
- In 2014, we launched a fellowship program for beginning-level science journalists. Funded by a grant from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the four-month TON Fellowship provides an opportunity for early-career science journalists to develop their skills by conducting behind-the-story interviews and creating reported features for publication at The Open Notebook.
Who We Are
Siri Carpenter (Co-founder and co-editor) is features editor at Discover magazine. Before joining Discover, she freelanced for 12 years, writing for publications including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, O, the Oprah Magazine, Science, Science Careers, Scientific American Mind, Prevention, and many others. She is also the first author of Visualizing Psychology (2007, John Wiley & Sons), a psychology textbook for undergraduates. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
Jeanne Erdmann (Co-founder and co-editor) is a freelance medical science journalist based near St. Louis, Missouri. She loves to write about the adventures of cells as they go about their day, building bone; fending off cancer; chatting with bacteria; fighting viruses. Her work has appeared in Slate, the Washington Post, Nature, Nature Medicine, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the HHMI Bulletin, Science News, ScientificAmerican.com, Chemistry & Biology, and Cure. ……………………………
Rebecca Boyle (Contributing editor) is an award-winning journalist and author of the Eek Squad blog on Popular Science. She grew up in Colorado, a mile closer to space, and spent six years covering politics. Now Rebecca lives in St. Louis and freelances for publications like ScientificAmerican.com, Dvice, Ask (Science for Kids), the New Yorker‘s Elements blog, and anywhere else that lets her write about how things work. Rebecca has a history degree from Colorado State University and a certificate of attendance from Space Camp.
Aaron Brooks (Assistant editor) is a freelance editor and writer. His two degrees in English have rendered him capable of expressing, in strikingly felicitous prose, why he should’ve studied biology instead. He loves to run and swim and ski, he loves to partake of exotic fare in far-flung locales, he loves his family, but most of all he loves science writing. Aaron lives in Traverse City, Michigan, where he can often be found chopping wood and carrying water.
Kendall Powell (TON Fellowship mentor, Spring 2014) is a freelance science writer and editor based near Denver. She covers biology and has written for publications including the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Nature, PLoS Biology, Journal of Cell Biology, Science Careers and the HHMI Bulletin. Powell also founded the SciLance writing community and is a contributor to the group’s book Science Writers’ Handbook: Everything You Need to Know to Pitch, Publish, and Prosper in the Digital Age.
What People are Saying
Here’s a taste of what our colleagues have said about TON (and here’s more):
Science journalist and author David Dobbs calls The Open Notebook “the Paris Review of science journalism.”
Slate magazine science and health editor Laura Helmuth writes that “The Open Notebook…is helping teach the rest of us a master class in science writing.”
Science journalist Steve Silberman writes: “…The Open Notebook transcends hackneyed print vs. digital dichotomies to deliver tips, advice, and food for thought that can be directly put into practice in today’s hyper-competitive freelance environment…I love The Open Notebook.”
Evan Ratliff, founder and editor of The Atavist and contributor to Wired, The New Yorker, National Geographic, and other magazines, writes: “The best way to learn about journalistic storytelling — besides writing stories — is by taking great narratives apart. The Open Notebook goes a step further, taking us back to the pitch letter, the assignment, and everything it took to get a big piece landed. The focus may be on science, but the lessons found here can be applied to any story.”
Holly Stocking, retired science writing professor at Indiana University in Bloomington and author, with the writers of The New York Times, of The New York Times Reader: Science & Technology, writes: “From the moment I set eyes on The Open Notebook, I regretted that I was no longer teaching science writing. I harbored this regret because I would have used it in a blink…the web site contains invaluable lessons on understanding and interpreting science, delivered by highly talented professionals.”
The Open Notebook was funded in part by a grant from the National Association of Science Writers. Reference to any specific commercial product, process, or service does not necessarily constitute or imply its endorsement of or recommendation by the National Association of Science Writers, and any views and opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the National Association of Science Writers.
If you would like to discuss partnering with The Open Notebook, please contact us.