The Open Notebook is a non-profit organization that provides unique 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 topical 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 series 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.
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.”
Who We Are
Jeanne Erdmann (co-founder and co-executive 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 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nature, the HHMI Bulletin, Science News, ScientificAmerican.com, Chemistry & Biology, and Cure.
Jeanne is also the primary caregiver to her 95-year-old mother, who is in the early stages of dementia. This experience has inspired Jeanne’s blog, Repetitive Stress.
Siri Carpenter (co-founder and co-executive editor) is a science journalist located in Madison, Wisconsin. She is a senior 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. Her article Is Your Parent Over-Medicated? (Prevention, December 2008) was a finalist for the 2009 National Magazine Award. Her article Buried Prejudice (Scientific American Mind, April/May 2008) won the 2009 American Society of Journalists and Authors’ Outstanding Article Award for Reporting on a Significant Topic.
Christie Aschwanden (managing editor) is an award-winning science journalist who has written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Slate, Men’s Journal, O, the Oprah Magazine, Mother Jones, Runner’s World, and other magazines. She was a National Magazine Award finalist in 2011, and she blogs at The Last Word on Nothing. Christie also doubles as a member of TON’s Board of Advisers.
This project 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.