American Birding Podcast



Authorial Voice


A few days ago, I was browsing one of the major newsweeklies. For sure, the magazine was well produced—article by article, cover to cover. The magazine was of uniform high quality. Needless to say, there’s nothing wrong with high quality. But what about uniformity?

I have to say, there was a sameness about it all. In that newsweekly, an article on Libya read just like the review of a recent movie. An essay on climate change had the same tone as a primer on taxes. The editorial on charter schools resembled the report on the Super Bowl.

I’m sure that’s good journalism—the same objective, neutral, “fair” voice throughout. If the film critic calls in sick, no biggie: Just call the sports writer, and she can fill in at the drop of a hat. Movies, football, Libya, climate change, whatever; it’s all the same. I’m being serious. Cover to cover, the magazine was possessed of the virtues of consistency and uniformity, objectivity and neutrality, and, well, sameness.

Things are a bit different, I believe, with Birding magazine. I’ve said it elsewhere, and I’ll say it now in this forum: My highest aspiration for Birding is that it serve as the mouthpiece, faithfully and credibly so, for the North American birding community. Now the “problem”—a wonderful “problem,” if you ask me—is that the North American birding community is fantastically diverse. We don’t all speak with the same voice. Some of us speak in hushed, almost reverent, tones about variation in third-cycle Thayer’s Gulls. Others of us get fired up about the negative consequences for bird populations of pollution and habitat destruction. Still others delight in checklist changes and list reports.

Maybe a sports writer can moonlight as a film critic. But I don’t think you can force the Thayer’s Gull aficionado to write in the same manner as the bird conservation essayist. Of course, we on the editorial side of things at Birding do adhere to certain basic standards: We try to keep typos to a minimum; we favor good diction and clear syntax; we check facts and confirm sources. I assure you, an awful lot of hard work goes into the production of each and every article that’s published in Birding.

And here’s the hardest thing of all: maintaining those basic standards while preserving what we at Birding like to refer to as authorial voice. Is an author detail-oriented, fussy, and a bit nerdy? That’s great! Bring it on! We don’t want to suppress that voice. Is another author cautious and scientific? Let’s hear that voice! Is yet another author giddy with delight—with no pretenses whatsoever to fussiness or scientism—about a recent listing milestone? We want to hear from that person.

Curry Kogler Kerlinger Fritz 02
Gehring Fritz 01 Világ Eyster 
These folks contributed articles to the January 2011 issue of Birding magazine. They have a shared
passion for birds and birding. They also have a lot of differences. That's great! 


In reviewing the content of the January 2011 issue of Birding, I am struck—felicitously so—by the extreme diversity of voices represented on those pages. I, personally, know a little (in some cases a lot) about the personal lives of the contributors to the January 2011 Birding. And I won’t go there. I’ll simply say this: In their lifestyles and worldviews, these authors are as different as can be. (If you just have to know, read their bios on p. 8, or, better, Google them. There are no more secrets, these days.)

With apologies to Leo Tolstoy, not all happy birders are the same. (Google it.) We birders are a generally happy lot, it seems to me, because we are so endlessly varied in our outlook on birding. Conversely, the handful of frustrated—even downright unhappy—birders are those who wish for us all to be the same. Yes, we’re all united by a shared wonder and amazement at the birdlife of planet earth. Beyond that, all bets are off.

Vive la différence!