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From Dinosaurs to Data Networks: Texas and the Arctic in the Anthropocene

“Report from the Top of the World!”

The flier caught my attention immediately. The U.S. Embassy in Oslo and the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Washington, DC wanted to send graduate journalism students to the Norwegian Arctic as part of a new internship program.

I applied because I wanted to gain a global perspective on my research and reporting. Less than a year later, I found myself standing on an empty beach near Bugøynes on the northern coast of Norway, silent except for the call of a distant bird and the lapping of cold water against the shore. Towering overhead were the sharp black rocks and dark islands of the fjords, silhouetted by midnight sun that glowed a soft, radiant white behind a sheet of fog…

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RUN Author Wins SPJ Mark of Excellence

Jaycen was awarded the Society of Professional Journalists Region 8 Mark of Excellence Non-Fiction Magazine Article category, announced Mar. 30. Her article “Mr. Universe. Lonely Hearts and Einstein in Love: The Personal Side of Science” is a feature-length profile of former New York Times science editor and now self-dubbed “cosmic correspondent” Dennis Overbye.

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East-West Meets Far North

I lived in Kirkenes, Norway for five weeks this summer, and I could not put into words what it mean or how it felt. Thanks to Bittner’s op-ed, I can share with you a little about why it shook me, why I’m in love with some far-away thing, why I was scared and elated, at the top of the world and the depths of me, why I couldn’t sleep, why I did some of the best reporting and deepest loving of my life there. Why I’ll never be the same, why no one can quite “get” that.

I’ll keep trying to tell it when i’m a better reporter. But for now, see the New York Times editorial on my home away from home…

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On Writing: Art of Darkness

This incredible, short piece by Pico Iyer captures some of the heavy psychological burdens of creativity. Indeed, many of my literary colleagues talk about the writer’s “pain cave,” while a theme in my young writer’s life sang of a “curse of consciousness.” Neither is a very far cry from Pico’s “Art of Darkness”:

“To what extent is the price of immortality humanity, as you could put it? Must the revolutionary artist ignore — even flout — the basic laws of decency that govern our world in order to transform that world? “Perfection of the life, or of the work,” as Yeats had it. “And if it take the second,” he went on, the intellect of man “must refuse a heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.” It was an ancient question even then..”

Continue Reading Pico Iyer’s “Art of Darkness” at The New York Times–>

Iyer’s forthcoming Art of Stillness book will be the second on the TED Books imprint, a collaboration between TED conferences and Simon & Schuster.

Read more about Iyer/TED Books–>

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Masters of the Universe and other characters from the heart of Texas in July

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In blistering Texas summer heat, the Mayborn Tribe gathers each summer in north Texas to talk about the craft, learn from each other and soak up the spirit of nonfiction writing.

This year’s event was centered around Narratives on the Cutting Edge, Writing about Science, Technology, Medicine and Innovation. Last year’s event dealt with digging into the past to bring historical narratives to life.
Both were rich themes with space to explore, share insight and dig into the down-and-dirty of nonfiction. In the middle of three days of mayhem, there’s a suit-and-tie (or boots and jeans, depending on how Texan you are) Literary Lights Dinner and Mayborn awards program, just a few ticks from rivaling the Pulitzers.

The Mayborn contest has categories in newspaper, essay, manuscript, and
reported narrative, hand-crafted trophies, $12,000 in cash prizes, competitors from nearly every major American newspaper and winners from as far away as New Zealand. This year’s Literary Lights included a live auction of signed first-editions of Larry McMurtry’s books and an online auction of tens of other signed first-editions of Mayborn speakers-past as a celebration of the tenth anniversary 2014 Mayborn Litearary Nonfiction Conference. Continue reading

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Out of the fiery couldron, a writer emerges

When you find that every cell in your body is motivated toward story-telling— as George says, “stories no one else is telling in ways no one else is telling them”—if your protons and neutrons are spinning and all your chemistry has undergone catalysis, it is possibly due to the introduction of a whole lot of Archer City Magic Dust.  In a terrifying trip to the soft center of a new writer, an Archer City student reflects on what she found out about writing and herself on a few dusty roads in the blazing July heat.

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Jackson Lears on Sam Harris

My assignment was to read 85% of the articles in The Best American Science Writing of 2013 and then try to connect them within a critical analysis of Lears’ article. 

In his essay “Same Old New Atheism: On Sam Harris,” Jackson Lears tackles the philosophies, behaviors, ethics, theories and books of Sam Harris, and with him the entire class of “New Athiests.” While the New Athiests’ claim begins with the premise that religious fervor is the dangerous root of the world’s problems, Lears finds that Harris and his cohorts manipulate anti-religious fervor and create larger social problems through their moral and political pronouncements.  Lears casts them in the light of history and current events as following in line with ideas that have led to catastrophic moral crimes against humanity.

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Annual Report nearly kills grad students

This is the thing. That thing that kept me up all night long.

It was created by myself and my co-worker Aaron Claycomb, a damn fine designer. We did not sleep, we got zits, we got headaches, we nearly over-dosed on caffeine and newsprint, we reported for months, designed for hours, copy-edited until we were dizzy, and generally worked our buns off, along with the help of friends and faculty of Mayborn.

Without further ado, I present the Mayborn School of Journalism’s first ever Annual Report magazine–>

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Center and Main: The intersection at the center of a writer

[Illustration by Eric Nishimoto]

CenterandMain.org is a website for writers, for Texas and for Texas writers, as well as anyone familiar with the kind of camaraderie that comes from a week spent sweating under the sun looking for the kind of stories that transcend the black and white page and cross into the hearts and minds of readers. Archer City is full of them – writers and stories – every July.

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Begging to write about science

So I got into grad school, after completing a large chunk of my studies, considering an interdisciplinary degree, and then deciding to choose the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas. Here’s the essay that made them decide to let me in and support my goals. It explains a little about why I love writing about science.

Excerpt: “The first project on which I chose to test this skill set was a UNT chemist who created a compound that offered promising results for a team of scientists trying to solve “the incandescent lamp problem,” as they called it. I immersed in their studies and experiments, documenting interchangeably with photographs, audio, and impromptu questions at a series of interviews with various researchers who each performed different parts of this journey toward successful scientific innovation. The process of documenting their work became like a fast-paced puzzle with many layers of components. The experience was a fascinating whirlwind, and it was my first introduction to many of the basic challenges of communicating—as well as understanding— science. I was determined to work until the story shaped into a multi-media piece that conveyed not only the inherent technical information but also the broader impacts of my sources’ work on society, in a format and on a platform that could
reach non-scientists.”

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“Custodians of Conscience,” a timeless analysis

The Transfiguration of Objectivity
A review of: Custodians of Conscience by James Ettema & Theodore Glasser

If you’ve ever picked up a book, started reading and found yourself in a whole new world a few days later with what you’re certain is a broader vision – a book that leaves you spinning from the ride and reveling in the valuable morsels of wisdom that now have become yours – you will enjoyCustodians of Conscience. This is especially true for anyone looking for an angle on the very essence of what makes journalism a powerful societal tool and a darn tough job.

James Ettema and Ted Glasser spent a decade compiling interviews with journalists’ journalists – the ones seen not only by their peers but by awards organizations such as the Pulitzer, Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University, and Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), as exceptional at their craft. These interviews are coupled with excerpts from the award winning stories of those journalists and a critical look at the methodologies and practices that surrounded the making of those great works of investigative journalism.

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This text is timeless: still strikingly fresh in today’s atmosphere in which reporters of all walks are questioning what they thought they knew about the role of journalism in society and audiences are severely disenchanted with traditional journalism.

The book not only confirmed my hunch that investigative journalism is the most potent form of journalism, but took that premise deep within social philosophy, cultural studies, politics, and historiography to create a picture of this stringent form of journalism that touches base on a number of different planes but never stays long.

Glasser and Ettema address some of the oldest canons of journalism – and reveal them in the work of their subjects – but in the very same breathe as they critically deconstruct those norms in order to give way to an interesting new language about journalistic practice.

Familiar themes that have always run current in journalistic work: verification, truth, value, credibility, irony, objectivity, are here placed in new light by referencing progressive thinkers and notable authors in a variety of disciplines. The authors introduce and educate us on the application of terms like “the irony of irony” and “the transfiguration of objectivity”, moral discourse, public indignation, and solidarity.

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