“Trouble in Tibet,” a 2016 article in Nature by 2017-18 fellow Jane Qiu, won a fistful of prizes, including a Silver AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award. Now it receives a different type of honor: It’s featured in The Open Notebook’s Storygram series, in which an award-winning story is painstakingly annotated “to shed light on what makes some of the best science writing so outstanding.”
Readers in the West have an idealized version of Tibet, writes the Open Notebook: “lamas clad in crimson robes, herds of yaks peacefully roaming the land, and colorful temples shrouded in mist. … Jane Qiu challenges such romanticized notions, explaining how Chinese government policies have led to nomads being relocated and steel meshes being erected along grassland slopes.” It continues:
“The logistical issues with reporting a story like this cannot be overemphasized. Writing about the Tibetan Plateau presents an array of practical challenges — starting with altitude sickness. Beginning her journey in Qinghai province, Qiu hired a driver and embarked on a 4,700-kilometer (2,900-mile) trek over difficult terrain. … This journey becomes an effective framing device for the article. … The result is a piece that packs a great deal of dense research into an engaging framework.”
Here’s Jane’s first paragraph, with an italic annotation by the journalist Mara Hvistendahl (who also did a Q&A with Jane):
In the northern reaches of the Tibetan Plateau, dozens of yaks graze on grasslands that look like a threadbare carpet. The pasture has been munched down to bare soil in places, and deep cracks run across the snow-dusted landscape. The animals’ owner, a herder named Dodra, emerges from his home wearing a black robe, a cowboy hat and a gentle smile tinged with worry. After nicely setting the scene with the first two sentences of this paragraph, Qiu zooms in to the micro level with Dodra, who helps guide us into the issue of grasslands health. The phrase “smile tinged with worry” hints at the tension to come.
Rowan Jacobsen was interviewed on the WGBH show “Boston Public Radio” about his latest book, “The Essential Oyster: A Salty Appreciation of Taste and Temptation.” You can listen here; fast forward to 2:19:19. The hosts, Jim Braude and Margery Eagan, were effusive about both book and topic. (Rowan’s co-guest was John Brawley, an oyster farmer and the owner of Sweet Sound Oysters in Duxbury.) The book’s opening line: “A good oyster smells like a sea breeze skipping over the shore. A bad oyster smells like a murder victim.”
“My editor wasn’t sure I should keep that second line,” Rowan said. The hosts assured him they were glad he had.