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Jessica Marshall is an award-winning science, environmental and health journalist. She has been a regular contributor to Discovery News and New Scientist. Her work has also appeared in Nature,, Science's online news service, Science News for Kids, and on public radio, among other outlets. She has taught science journalism at the University of Minnesota. Jessica earned her Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of California at Berkeley before becoming a science journalist. She attended the Science Communication Program at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is based in St. Paul, Minnesota.

12 responses to “In praise of editors”

  1. Helen Fields

    I’d also like to add huge thanks to Laura Helmuth for giving me my first ever feature assignment and to Wray Herbert for giving me tons of work over the years. And to both of them for being awesome. And to all my other editors. Especially *you*, dear editor who is reading this. *You’re* my favorite.

  2. Kendall Powell

    I realized I should thank my very, very first editor, Judi Bitner, the yearbook advisor at my high school, for endowing me with a love of journalism.

    Also, during an internship at the L.A. Times, I landed an A1 story the week that the best of newspaper science editors, Joel Greenberg, was on vacation. So the religion editor–whose name I’m very sorry I have forgotten–went through the piece line by line on the screen with me. I’ve never forgotten his helpful critique: “Even *I* don’t know what a cruciform vegetable is!”

  3. Michelle Nijhuis

    So many, but for starters Greg Hanscom, who told me that while there were a lot of ways to ski down a tree-filled slope, I could only pick one – I’ve always remembered that metaphor. And Laura Helmuth, who so graciously and patiently “trained” me to pitch Smithsonian.

  4. Lawrence Lanahan

    I’m thanking Paul Reyes, who was at Oxford American when they published my first piece in 2006. I gave him an article about an artist fleeing New Orleans after Katrina. It was over 8,000 words, full of bluster and outrage and authority I didn’t really have. He whacked it in half on the first go-round, and had gentle but very detailed and helpful suggestions for what needed to be rewritten.

    I had a strong attachment to New Orleans before the storm, and this piece went in as A Statement. It came out A Decent Profile, which in retrospect I think was better than I could have hoped for in my first magazine piece.

    I have two essays to edit tomorrow. Gonna do my best!

  5. Liza Gross

    Among the many editors I should thank, I owe a lot of thanks to two people who really helped me think differently about how I approach stories. Joe Bergantino, director of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, trained me to do enough preliminary research to focus my investigation before I even think about pitching a story-and to be prepared to switch gears if I dig up material that contradicts my key question. And Marla Cone, EIC of Environmental Health News, taught me how to make strong images do double duty by conveying critical information.

  6. Dawn Stover

    Thanks to the alumni of Science Digest magazine, who gave me my first clips. And here’s a shout-out to editors who not only nurture writers but also mentor would-be editors: I’m grateful to Michael Pollan for giving me my first editing assignment, at Harper’s magazine. Thanks, Michael, for trusting me with a piece by Ken Kesey about his son’s death. I’ll never forget that story or your generosity.

    1. Robin Mejia

      Dawn, your name came up in the discussion of great editors. Thanks for trusting me with my first national magazine feature, and for all the guidance on how to structure and pace a narrative piece.

  7. David Malakoff

    Betsy Carpenter was also my first “big time” science editor, in 1997. She was then at Science and assigned me a piece on seeds that were “fooled” into germinating by high levels of NOx pollution. (The late Constance “Tancy” Holden actually handled my very first piece, which I filed at 800 words and she cut to a 150 word Random Sample).

    A piece for the defunct Washington Tribune, on raising the drinking age to 21, was my very first paid writing gig in 1981. Paid $25, and I never picked up the check! (An omen of my awful biz skills to come.)

    As for giving Kendall Powell her first assignment, that wasn’t generosity — it was just talent spotting! Have to keep the good ones away from Nature.

  8. Virginia Gewin

    I was an intern at Nature magazine in early 2002, mentored by Colin Macilwain, then the magazine’s Washington D.C.-based news editor. In the wake of 9-11, researcher visas were becoming an increasingly contentious issue. While covering a routine National Academy of Science meeting, it came out that the USDA had made the choice to no longer renew VISAs for non-US researchers. I ran back to the office and convinced Colin it was going to be a big story. Seeing his smile when, the day after our story ran, he opened up Science to find they also ran it as the lead that week meant the world to this aspiring science journalist.

  9. Amanda

    Another editor experience I’m grateful for was with our very own Michelle (Nijhuis).

    As a freelancer I often crave more feedback from editors and I always wonder what I could do to grow and improve. So once in a while, I’ll ask editors for feedback and constructive criticism. Several years ago I worked on an essay for High Country News with Michelle as my editor. After the piece ran, I emailed her and asked if she had any thoughts on what I could work on to grow as a writer.

    She offered a couple of concrete tips. She reminded me of the ‘show-don’t-tell’ rule and pointed out that it’s even more important in essays because essays are usually dealing with emotions and it’s difficult to ‘explain’ emotions. She pointed me to spots in my first draft where she had worked to pull out more detail or insert a tiny scene to help the reader feel what I was feeling rather than just understanding it in their head. She wrote, “With essays, I try to remind myself to aim for the gut.” I’ve always remembered that and have tried to put it into practice!

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