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December 22 2010

08:16

How to Be a Better Journalist


In the course of my career, I’ve spent a lot of time asking about the things that appeal most to editors, those gatekeepers of bylines, the masters of purse strings. Every single one has said, in some fashion, that they want a good story.

On the one hand, you’re probably saying, “Duh.” But you might also be asking, “How do I improve?”

Journalism is as much craft as profession. And the only way you get good at craft is to continually practice and polish. For me, that means reading. A lot. Especially at the end of the year, when I turn to anthologies from the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt “Best American” series.

The first time through, I’ll read for the pleasure of reading. But when there’s a particularly striking story, I’ll go over it again and pick out story structure, think about the questions that were asked and the author’s angle, listen for turns of phrase, look for holes.

Approaching the collection so deliberately takes time, which is why it takes me until December to get around to reading books that were published in January.

This year, I’ve collected the 22 articles from “The Best American Science Writing 2010″ on Delicious. (It’ll be mirrored on Pinboard later today.) They’re by some of the biggest names in science writing, which, in my opinion, is one of the toughest subjects to cover for a mass audience, and therefore, the most interesting pieces to study.

Read, enjoy, and tell me which are your favorites and why. If you get really ambitious (or nostalgic), have a look at the 2006 collection. And for something completely different, read “Trying Really Hard to Like India,” a really funny article by Seth Stevenson that was included the 2006 “Best American Travel Writing” anthology.

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