SEJ Member Spotlight: Reporting Colleagues Jane Braxton Little and Winifred Bird
Freelance journalist Jane Braxton Little has been writing about science and natural resource issues since escaping to California's Sierra Nevada with a Harvard MA in Japanese cultural history. Her stories about condors and climate change, forests, phibs and fire have appeared in national publications that run the gamut from Utne and Scientific American to Audubon, where she is a contributing editor. Jane is co-coordinator of SEJ's Mentor Program.
Freelance journalist Winifred Bird covers the environment, agriculture, and architecture from her home in rural Japan. Her previous stories about cleaning up Fukushima's nuclear fallout appeared in Yale Environment 360 and The Japan Times. She has also written for publications including Environmental Health Perspectives, The Christian Science Monitor, and Science, and is a contributing editor at the Kyoto Journal. In 2011 she attended Vermont Law School's environmental law program as a summer media fellow.
Jane Braxton Little
Although this is the pair's first project together, they already had practice with cross-Pacific communication. In 2008 Winnie applied to SEJ's Mentor Program, and Jane, program co-coordinator who had worked and studied in Japan for several years, assigned herself. They established a strong relationship via email, Skype and one memorable visit at Jane's home in the Sierra Nevada. When the mentoring period ended, they kept in close touch.
After the meltdowns in Japan, they started brainstorming via email about how to cover the event. Eventually they realized they were both interested in the same question: What is happening in the irradiated forests of Fukushima and Chernobyl? They decided to join forces. Jane was secretly jonesing for a trip to Japan but Winnie sensibly pointed out that she was already in Japan. "You have to go to Chernobyl," she said.
Winnie, who collaborated with SEJ freelancer Elizabeth Grossman on a project in 2011, says she loves co-writing. "Writing is usually so solitary. It's great to get constant feedback, ideas, and motivation from a writing partner. Jane and I read through each other's notes and highlight what catches our eye as we go. It has really helped me become aware of what's good, and what's not, in my writing," she says.
For Jane, the collaboration has enhanced the discipline of transcribing field notes and digital recordings. "Getting feedback on routine observations rewards the drudgery of typing them up," she says. Proof that a partnership mitigates the inherent loneliness came recently when she posted a mild Facebook whine about spending the night with radionuclides and words. "Winnie transcended space and time zones by posting right back," Jane says. And she hasn't given up on that next trip to Japan!