Friday, October 16, 2020

National Geographic Editor-in-Chief Susan Goldberg on Breaking the News: What's Real, What's Not, and Why the Difference Matters

In this interview, Susan Goldberg talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about the National Geographic Children's book, Breaking The News: What’s Real, What’s Not, and Why the Difference Matters.

“We tell stories every day that can help make the world a better place.” ~Susan Goldberg

When she wrote an essay on journalism in the 8th grade, all Susan wanted to be was a great reporter. She is very thankful for all the opportunities she had in the past forty years, remarking that she came on “the scene of societal change,” as she received opportunities that women before her didn’t get.

“Journalists are the eyes and the ears of the public,” Susan says about what journalists are, writing out stories on subjects and places that the general public has no access to. “I think it’s one of the most important functions of our democracy,” she adds, as this enables people to become informed consumers. Where stories are concerned, Susan notes that the best reporters have “a million and one ideas,” and that reporters work with editors to prioritize what stories are more important.

Where her experiences as a female journalist are concerned, Susan notes that journalism was very much a man’s world when she started in the 1980s. “I didn’t see very many female editors,” she notes about the journalistic environment at that time. She remarks that journalism is still very much male dominated and that, despite “great strides” being made in the end of the 20th century, the momentum for female advancement in journalism has stalled out at the moment. Where leadership is concerned, she hopes that her style is collaborative, and she works to give “a hand up” to the next generation of journalists, coaching them and speaking with them on how to advance in their profession. She also adds that it is a journalist’s role to “shine a light in dark places” to bring forth that which otherwise would remain hidden, and that this is one of the things that makes her proud to be a journalist.

The term “fake news,” Susan points out, is a term used by the present and 45th President of the United States for news items that he doesn’t agree with. What is presently included under the blanket term of “fake news,” Susan notes, was called, in previous years, consisted of such things as hoaxes, conspiracy theories and propaganda - stories that appear factual, but which can be outright lies. She remarks that, in the past, news came from a limited number of channels, so people knew where the stories came from. 

At present, people are bombarded with information 24/7, thanks to social media and the Internet, and the sources are legion. Thanks to social media, information can be quickly spread, “almost like a game of ‘Telephone,’” though the story spread might not be a real one. Susan notes that people nowadays need to pause and make sure that they pass along real stories, rather than fake ones.

People “need to be curious and be skeptical consumers,” Susan remarks, adding the journalistic truism: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out,” adding that this truism underscores the need for people to be sure where information is coming from and if that information is real. She also notes that a third of young people admit that they have passed on stories that turned out not to be true, noting that bad information not only misleads but can also do harm. Susan also notes that half of the information that young people receive nowadays comes from social media and the Internet, which makes their being smart and skeptical consumers vital, where discerning the difference between real and false information is concerned.

Author Robin Terry Brown had been writing books for kids for over twenty years. She is likewise a journalist who had assembled a panel of journalists from various news organizations, as well as journalism professors, to talk about the history of news and journalism, the kind of stories that people read, and how to evaluate whether a story is real or false (which includes such things as how to tell if pictures are doctored).

Susan notes that some of the stories printed by National Geographic can take years to finish, and that, while these stories can be as long as books, the process of investigating and writing a story in that magazine is different from the process of writing a book. What is important, Susan emphasizes, is the discipline necessary to present truthful and accurate information which has been ethically gathered.

“I don’t think any one of us want to believe things that aren’t true,” Susan remarks, adding that it is hard for one to behave if one doesn’t know the basic facts. Lies, she also adds, can spread far more quickly than truth and the facts can, particularly in the Internet age. She also notes that it is just as easy to figure out what is real and what is not, as checking on stories is likewise just as quick on the Internet. One good way of checking on whether big and outrageous stories are real or not is to check if other people are covering said story, she explains, as a lot of people, particularly in the established media outlets, will be covering the same story.

Breaking The News is a fun and easy read, Susan remarks, be the reader an adolescent or an adult. The journalist’s code of ethics is included in the book, and this includes making sure that one is meeting with an expert on the field, and being transparent with one’s mistakes whenever these occur. There are several examples of falsified information in the book, and one of the best ways to determine if the information is false is if a headline that one reads makes one emotional, so that one doesn’t go into the story itself to see if the story is real or not. The book includes a “Truth Toolkit,” and one of these tools, Susan shares, is for determining if the story feels like it belongs “on a supermarket tabloid,” (all caps, lots of exclamation points, includes aliens, etc.), while another aims to determine if the story is full of typos (spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, sloppy and messy, bad punctuation), as no legitimate news site puts out news in that condition. Yet another is if the website that the news comes from is a website of a legitimate news organization.

Susan admits that the book makes her proud to be a journalist, as it explains what journalists can do and the impact of what good journalism can do. It is a very excellent material for those who are studying journalism and for those who dream of becoming one in the future.

Purchase from Amazon: 

Breaking The News: What’s Real, What’s Not, and Why the Difference Matters by author Robin Terry Brown (with Mary Newton Bruder & Jamie Terranova) and published by National Geographic Children's Books with Editor-in-Chief Susan Goldberg

Friday, October 9, 2020

Kwame Mbalia and How Tristan Strong Destroys the World in Book 2 of the Tristan Strong Novel Series

In this interview, Kwame Mbalia talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about his book, Tristan Strong Destroys the World (A Tristan Strong Novel, Book 2).

“The very first gatekeeper of one’s work that one would meet will be oneself.” ~Kwame Mbalia

Kwame had always written stories as a child, as these were the best way he would express himself. He joined an online writer’s group some years back, and the group members then encouraged him to become an author.

Kwame, who is from Wisconsin, was named after the first president of Ghana, and his name also means “born on Saturday,” which was the day he was born in. He was steeped in west African mythology as a child, as he heard stories about these, and as a writer he wanted to create stories which were based on this mythology, to pass on to others. The Tristan Strong stories are, for him, about storytelling and how these get carried on for others to listen to.

Where the mythological characters are concerned, Kwame notes that the traditional tales leave gaps where authors like himself can create other stories, to expand on these, so that a larger representation of the characters can be given. “These stories have been around for a long, long time,” he remarks, adding that he includes them in his books to pay homage to the traditions around them.

Kwame remarks that each of his books is centered around a theme, with the theme of the first book, Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, being that of grief, both for the lead character and the world he finds himself in. 

The themes he writes about in Tristan Strong Destroys the World are trauma and diaspora, and these are interrelated with what the characters and real-world people deal with. Kwame remarks that readers can get an idea of how one person, at least, handles concerns such as grief.

Where the consistency of his books is concerned, Kwame remarks that there is a large team of editors which makes sure his stories remain consistent over time and, in addition, Kwame also re-reads what he wrote to ensure consistency. He notes that food is one of his favorite things to write about, noting that: “Food is a wonderful way of world-building,” as it shows different aspects about the culture that prepared it. He also enjoys writing dialogue, particularly humor, as this shows the degree of friendship and camaraderie amongst the characters.

Where Tristan Strong is concerned, Kwame notes that the character “grew organically,” and that he thought a lot about how a teenager Tristan’s age would deal with issues like grief and trauma. In the second book, Kwame explores what happens after the hero defeats villains, and Tristan’s dealing with this is what makes him grow. Where Gum Baby is concerned, even Kwame himself wonders how Gum Baby has become the character she presently is, noting that: “She’s taken on a life of her own.” That said, Gum Baby acts as a foil to the introspective, thoughtful Tristan, as she’s confident, loud and boisterous. That said, Kwame does create a framework of the story, so he knows where the story is going, and the characters grow within the framework he establishes. The new characters that Tristan Strong Destroys the World introduces, Kwame notes, are interesting ones which add to the growing story, particularly Tristan’s relationship with Junior.

Kwame remarks that would-be authors will encounter gatekeepers - people who can reject and prevent one’s work from seeing the light - along the way, but the very first gatekeeper one would meet will be oneself.

Purchase from Amazon: 

Tristan Strong Destroys the World (A Tristan Strong Novel, Book 2) by Kwame Mbalia

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Brian Deer: The Doctor Who Fooled the World: Science, Deception and the War on Vaccines

In this interview, Brian Deer talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about his book, The Doctor Who Fooled the World: Science, Deception and the War on Vaccines.

“The science needs to be separated from the politics.” ~Brian Deer

Brian has investigated three vaccines to date: a diphtheria test which caused controversy in the 1970s and 1980s, which took a year; AIDSVax, which was a failed AIDS vaccine; and the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine, with the latter being the basis for the anti-vaxxer controversy which is presently sweeping the world. He also investigated oral contraceptive fraud in Australia in the 1980s and also investigated other drugs. The Doctor Who Fooled the World is a different kind of investigation, as the focus of this book is on an individual who essentially kicked off the anti-vaxxer movement, rather than a drug itself.

Brian never did think that he would eventually get the time to become an investigative reporter. “It’s extremely hard work,” he notes, “especially if you’re working in a field like science,” adding that he needs to understand, as much as possible, what is being talked about. Investigative reporting, he points out, is different from standard science journalism, which is essentially advertising for new scientific ideas, machines and concepts. Investigative journalism is presently facing challenges, as the money that would have gone into it from advertising is now being funneled to online platforms such as Google. Brian adds that it took him four months of research before he wrote out a story, and additional challenges come in the form of cultivating contacts and obtaining documents to support his story. This is because investigative journalism entails making public something which someone doesn’t want made public, and as that person could very well wind up suing an investigative journalist, it behooves the latter to have all of his documentation supporting his claims, to support his case. Brian notes that he has already been sued twice by the personality in the middle of The Doctor Who Fooled the World and is hearing rumors of a third suit against him by that same person. Brian also adds that research for his book took two years, as all of what he wrote had to be evidenced, which meant that he had to create an index of thousands of .pdf files for fact checking.

Brian remarks that he’s not an advocate for vaccination, and that his purpose is to question the knowledge available. While he isn’t a medical professional, he notes that the basics of vaccination is essentially that a weakened version of an infectious agent is injected into the body, so that the body’s immune system can overcome that infectious agent - such as a virus - when the full-strength thing hits. He notes that vaccinations have been successful against such diseases as diphtheria and polio, which used to be prevalent and worrying for parents in the past, but which are not presently large concerns for parents today.

Where Andrew Wakefield is concerned, Brian remarks that he was a research academic at a London medical school who, in 1998, published a paper in The Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal, on a five-page, 4,000-word study, conducted on twelve children, which indicated that, in two-thirds of those cases, their child had been developing normally but then began exhibiting autism within two weeks of receiving an MMR vaccination shot. Wakefield then claimed to find a link between taking the vaccine and autism, and then had the government suspend the vaccine. Brian noted that, even in medical studies, twelve children is a small sample, but that there was a possibility that the doctors at the hospital had come upon something that others had missed.

Brian originally didn’t want to get involved in “another vaccine investigation,” given all the various fields and disciplines that were involved, but he got involved again when, in 2003, he was assigned to look into the matter, as outbreaks of diseases which hadn’t been seen in years were taking place. (By then, Wakefield was exporting the parents’ fear of their children taking vaccines to the United States, according to him.) After talking with the parents involved, however, Brian said he discovered that the children involved in the study weren’t the kind of statistically random participants that scientific studies should be based on. This meant for him that the parents were far more likely to complain about the effects of a vaccination than the average, randomly determined parent. Brian then came upon other aspects of the study and Wakefield’s subsequent actions which led to Wakefield being essentially tried by the British medical board for over 200 days.

Brian points to outbreaks of measles which took place in 2019 as being due to the lack of vaccination. He also remarks that he was in an area where children died from measles because they hadn’t been vaccinated. Brain also points out that autism isn’t caused by taking a vaccine, and notes that an “adult” debate - one free of personal bias - still needs to be conducted on the pros and cons of vaccination, with both sides need to be taken into account, particularly with fast-tracked vaccines like those being developed for the Covid-19 virus.

Purchase from Amazon: 

The Doctor Who Fooled the World: Science, Deception and the War on Vaccines by Brian Deer