Mission

Why We’re Here

The Open Notebook is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that provides tools and resources to help science, environmental, and health journalists at all experience levels sharpen their skills.

At no other time in human history has the meaning of what constitutes a fact—a valid piece of knowledge—been more at risk than it is today. With social media disseminating information on an unimagined scale, journalists’ ability to communicate facts about science clearly, accurately, and engagingly has never been more critical for public understanding of science and for a well-functioning democracy. Science journalists play a demanding role in society—we expect them to not only explain the newest advances in scientific research, but to also provide critical context and analysis on issues as ranging from addiction science to genetic engineering to energy; to shed light on the human beings behind the research; and to serve as watchdogs to help ensure the continued freedom and integrity of the scientific enterprise.

To fulfill such a role takes skill. And the skills that science journalists need are endangered. Only a fraction of working science journalists are trained in formal journalism programs. And with the shrinking number of traditional staff jobs available, science journalism is fast moving toward a “gig economy” that relies on freelancers to produce work once done by staffers. One effect of that shift is that fewer journalists have the opportunity to master skills through the natural mentoring that takes place in newsrooms. The Open Notebook is the only publication dedicated to helping science journalists cultivate fundamental skills that enable them to fulfill this role. Since The Open Notebook was founded in 2010, half a million people from around the world have visited the site, and tens of thousands are regular users, returning dozens of times. The Open Notebook is widely regarded as the “textbook of science journalism.”

 


 What We Do

  • In our 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, outlines, draft excerpts, edits, and other behind-the-scenes resources that illustrate how one story evolved over time.
  • Our Reported Features focus on specific elements of the craft of science journalism, from finding ideas to taking good notes to writing effective ledes—and much more.
  • Our Brief Guides, written by veteran journalists, offer authoritative guidance on the essential elements of different story forms.
  • In the Storygram series, a collaboration with the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, experienced journalists provide in-depth annotations of award-winning science stories (along with Q&A interviews with the authors). Our goal is to show what makes the best stories great.
  • 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. 
  • Our Single Best video series provides quick nuggets of winning advice.
  • Part practical guidance, part writerly voyeurism, TON’s Natural Habitat audio slideshows visit science writers in their working spaces—from home offices to coffee shops to  hammocks—and invite them to share the accoutrements that help them do their best work.
  • TON‘s 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 Office Hours series invites journalism instructors to share the insights they’ve gleaned as teachers.
  • The TON Pitch Database is a searchable resource containing more than 150 successful news and 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.
  • Our fellowship program for early-career science journalists is funded by a grant from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. The eight-month TON/BWF Fellowship provides an opportunity for early-career science journalists to develop their skills by conducting story-behind-the-story interviews and creating reported features for publication at The Open Notebook.