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Bookmarked: Brittany Shoot’s Seven Science Writers

When I joined The Magazine as managing editor a year ago, the publication’s editor-publisher (and my boss) Glenn Fleishman and I had a number of discussions about gender, bylines, inclusion, and such. (And we still have those talks.) The Magazine launched about eight months before I came on board, and while it’s still a bit under the radar, it’s an iOS/web native publication that features narrative reporting at the intersection of culture and technology. That means we often hear from writers who specialize in tech, science, or nature reporting—or at least, those are increasingly the sort of reporters who pitch us now. I’m extremely fortunate that the science and technology writers I most admire tend to either be friends, journalists we’ve commissioned to report for The Magazine, and in some cases, both! And though Glenn and I have never discussed it publicly until now, our byline ratio skews hard toward women. We have yet to run the numbers (though it’d be relatively easy to do), but we’ve always known we hire more women than men.

The first—and to me, most obvious—reason this happens is that women writers pitch us thoroughly researched ideas that are a solid, often perfect fit for our publication. We receive many fascinating pitches from a wide range of reporters, and like other publications, we also receive a breathtaking amount of crap. But it isn’t an exaggeration to say we receive far more fully fleshed-out, pre-reported pitches from women writers. There have been several recent instances where a journalist neither of us knows cold-pitches a story so good, it becomes the centerpiece of an issue. More often than not, those brilliant cold pitches come from women journalists. I won’t guess or oversimplify why I think that happens, but it does happen.

There’s much hand-wringing over women’s role in science and technology reporting, and I’ll be the first to admit I don’t always know just how bad things are. (I’m not even comfortable calling myself a science journalist, because my own work spans a spectrum from travel to tech and doesn’t focus on any one topic or genre, especially not science.) But there’s new evidence that it isn’t getting better for women STEM reporters—at least not yet. In June, 90 women journalists and editors gathered at MIT for the first annual Solutions Summit for Women in Science Writing. One of the conference highlights was the unveiling of a survey that detailed experiences of professional misconduct and bias experienced by more than 400 women writers and editors at every stage of their careers. More than half of the survey respondents said they’d experienced unintentional or deliberate sexism in the course of their careers, and one in three reported being harassed while on the job. (You can read a more detailed recap on the CJR blog.)

We have the privilege of working with so many talented reporters, so much so that I hesitate to recommend these writers as I’ll end up leaving out plenty of others. But a few Magazine contributors who write stories I admire and appreciate for the value they add to the world, for us and for many other publications, include the following:

1. Nancy Gohring is a career journalist covering what I like to call “deep tech,” by which I mean more complex technology like cloud computing and mobile phone standards as opposed to the business/startup side of tech reporting. She writes for Wired, The Economist, The MIT Technology Review, and loads of computing magazines you should be reading if you want to better understand topics that impact our everyday lives, like wireless infrastructure or securing mobile devices used for healthcare. She’s written a number of stories for us, including her most recent, “Data Harvesting,” a fascinating look at farmers using drones and GPS in precision agriculture.

2. Investigative reporter Lee van der Voo was a 2013 Alice Patterson Foundation fellow and contributes to The New York Times, Slate, and High Country News. She focuses her reporting on energy, the environment, and criminal and social justice. Her first story for us, “Tanks For Everything,” is a delightful dive into the world of Hawaiian aquaponics and the people propelling the backyard aquaculture movement forward.

3. Theresa Everline is the former editor-in-chief of the Philadelphia City Paper and a contributing writer to CBS SmartPlanet. Her writing, which spans the spectrum from urban issues to green tech, appears in the Washington Post, The New York Times, and Preservation. She writes engaging stories for us, and I love the innovative approach described in a piece she wrote for NextCity about using heat from data centers as an energy source. So brilliantly simple when you think about it!

4. Madeline Bodin covers the wild outdoors for publications like Scientific American, Popular Mechanics, and The Boston Globe. She also contributed essays about nature in New England to several anthologies and is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and National Association of Science Writers. Madeline’s first pitch, which came out of nowhere and resulted in her excellent report, “To Bee or Not To Bee,” was on a subject we’d covered before. But hers was so uniquely positioned and thoroughly researched that we were buzzing with excitement to assign and publish the story.

I’d also be remiss not to mention the Climate Confidential collective, a group of six highly respected science and environmental journalists. Several of the Climate Confidential writers also contribute to The Magazine: Amy Westervelt, Mary Catherine O’Connor, and Celeste LeCompte. They all cover science and technology for numerous other publications, too, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Slate. But even writing that seems to downplay their individual achievements.

5. Mary Catherine O’Connor was a senior editor and is still a regular contributor to the RFID Journal. She’s also a contributing editor at CBS SmartPlanet and writes “The Footprint” column for Outside in addition to writing for Wired, Entrepreneur, and Fortune. Her piece for us about mimicking animal calls, “Cry Wolf,” lent her lovely humor to a serious subject.

6. Celeste LeCompte just won a 2014-2015 Nieman Fellowship at Harvard to investigate why people read the news. She’s pens a monthly column for Robotics Business Review and writes about technology, the environment, and innovation for Smithsonian, The Atlantic, and Scientific American, including this terrific piece on the mind-altering science showcased at Burning Man.

7. Amy Westervelt covers the environment, business, technology, and everything in between for The Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, and Smithsonian. She’s a former staff editor at Spa Magazine and won a Folio Eddie for a story about biofuel feedstock she reported while on staff at Sustainable Industries. A personal favorite: she helped break the story about plant-based plastic bottles a few years ago.


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