Let’s start from the beginning: I was born and raised in Iowa, and grew up on a farm that had been in the family for a century. We had cows, pigs, sheep, chickens and most of the other animals from the “Old MacDonald” song.
I went to Aquin High in the nearby town of Cascade, and got my bachelor’s degree in English literature, writing and philosophy from Loras College in the nearby city of Dubuque. If you want to know about the transcendental bridge from Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason to his Critique of Practical Reason … or what kind of power Nietzsche was talking about in “The Will to Power” … I might be able to help you out.
I was the editor of the high school newspaper and the college newspaper, so it only made sense to get my master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University in New York and try my hand as an ink-stained wretch: It was as if an occult hand had pushed me into the profession.
I started out on the copy desk at The Cincinnati Post (now a casualty of the newspaper industry’s downsizing). A year later, I lit out for the Great Northwest and worked on the copy desk, city desk and features desk at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash. In 1984 I moved over to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, where I eventually became the paper’s foreign desk editor.
It was while I was at the P-I that I took an interest in online media. In 1994, I helped organize the first “New Media for a New World” conference introducing ex-Soviet journalists to online tools in Moscow. I worked on a follow-up conference the next year, and also represented the World Association of Newspapers at a UNESCO conference for Pacific Rim journalists in India.
By that time, I was convinced that this thing called the Internet would eventually make a huge difference in the way that people got their news. So when MSNBC.com put out the word that it was hiring journalists for its debut in 1996, I was among the first in line.
At MSNBC.com, I started out covering the top stories of the day, ranging from the aftermath of the Soviet collapse to the Flight 800 air tragedy and investigation. But by 1997, I was regularly writing about space-related stories such as the Mars Pathfinder landing and the Mir space station crisis – and that’s how I ended up making space and science a full-time beat.
The space and science beat has been very, very good to me: I was fortunate enough to receive the AAAS Science Journalism Award as well as the NASW’s Science in Society Award in 2002 for a series of stories about genetic genealogy.
In 2003 I won a share of the first CMU Cybersecurity Awards, in 2005 I shared a Pirelli Relativity Challenge award for MSNBC.com’s coverage of the Einstein centenary, in 2006 I was given the Space Frontier Foundation’s Space Journalism Award for my coverage of the new space race, and in 2007 I received the June Anderson Almquist Award for distinguished service from the Society of Professional Journalists.
In 2008, I was honored with the National Academies Communication Award given for online news (specifically honoring Cosmic Log), as well as the IEEE-USA award for distinguished literary contributions that further public understanding of the engineering profession (for my series on future engineering challenges). In 2014, I won the Von Braun Communications Award from the National Space Club Huntsville.
In the wake of Pluto’s reclassification in 2006 as a dwarf planet, I wrote a book titled “The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference,” which stood up for the little guy and also laid out the larger story of the search for planets. Publisher’s Weekly said I presented the popular and scientific issues surrounding Pluto’s status “in a winning fashion.” D. Wayne Dworsky of the San Francisco Book Review called the book a “must read,” and it was a finalist for the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize in 2011. Even Caltech astronomer Mike Brown, the guy who confessed to “killing” the dwarf planet, acknowledged that “The Case for Pluto” is the place to start “if you need to argue Pluto.”
I left NBC News in 2015, and became aerospace and science editor for GeekWire, a Seattle-based tech site that was founded by fellow alumni of the Seattle P-I. You can keep track of the stories I write for GeekWire via this author page.
I’m listed in the Marquis Who’s Who in America and currently serve as president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. To learn still more about me, check out “The Case for Pluto” website, AlanBoyle.com and Family.Boyle.Net.