Catching a Really Big Wave
The Back Story
Photo: Andri Gretarsson
Trudy E. Bell at a detector arm of the gravitational-wave observatory in Livingston, La.
At its best, the practice of reporting is far more than the mere gathering of fact. It is the purposeful and systematic scavenging of data, perspective, and anecdote to the point that the activity becomes difficult to distinguish from obsession. It alone can’t produce great journalism, any more than the accumulation of ingredients, no matter how amazing, can make a terrific meal. But it’s safe to say that great journalism very rarely happens without dogged and tireless reporting.
Freelance writer and editor Trudy E. Bell [photo] does this kind of reportingï»'. A former senior editor at IEEE Spectrum, Bell wowed the staff in 1985 when, reporting on the recent divestiture of AT&T, she secured an interview with the famously reclusive Judge Harold H. Greene, who had presided over the trial. Bell had flown to Washington, D.C., to attend an annual softball game between the lawyers in the case, for the sole purpose of handing Greene a copy of her draft manuscript. He was so impressed with it that he called her a few days later, in a very rare exception to his policy of never speaking to the press. The issue in which her story appeared won a National Magazine Award, the United States’ highest honor for magazine journalism.
Bell’s tenaciousï»' brand of reporting enlivens ”Waiting for Gravity,” in this issue. The article describes the incredible engineering challenges of building the two largest facilities, in Livingston, La., and Hanford, Wash., designed to detect gravitational waves. These waves are ripples in space-time caused by the most massive imaginable events in the cosmos, such as the collision of galaxies.
Says Bell: ”It’s amazing how many interesting stories scientists and engineers have to tell....They often tell so much just because they have an appreciative listener.”