Breaking Bias in Storytelling with Ed Yong and Liz Neeley

Ed Yong spent two years trying to fix the gender imbalance in the stories he was writing for The Atlantic, and wrote about his findings. His heartbreakingly honest revelation spurred our desire to dig in deeper on ways that all communicators can build equity and break bias in their storytelling. Part of digging deeper was bringing Ed Yong and his partner Liz Neeley of The Story Collider to speak at our Mission Forward Spring Reception. This podcast episode features that conversation on building equity through storytelling, and what we can all learn from their experience. Conversation moderated by Carrie Fox.

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Since starting the Mission Forward conversation series in 2014, we’ve had the opportunity to interview some amazing folks: Pulitzer Prize-winning writers, MacArthur Genius grantees, media entrepreneurs, and philanthropists. One of our favorite conversations to date has been with Ed Yong and Liz Neeley. It took place in 2018, shortly after Ed wrote a story in the Atlantic titled: “I Spent Two Years Trying to Fix the Gender Imbalance in My Stories Here’s What I’ve Learned, and Why I Did It.

As an acclaimed author and science writer, Ed was a big deal then, but he’s had quite a run these last few years. This past September, his story on the COVID–19 pandemic, “How Did it Come to This?” took the cover spot of The Atlantic magazine, and since that time, he’s published several other articles on COVID 19 including his most recent: “America Is About to Choose How Bad the Pandemic Will Get.”

Given how much we value Ed Yong — and how straightforward he can make even the most complex science story — we decided to resurface this great conversation from a few years back, about building equity and breaking bias in storytelling.

In that 2018 story about gender imbalance in his reporting, Ed found that only 24 percent of his last 23 articles quoted sources that were women. And of those stories, 35 percent featured no female voices at all. As Ed shared in his article:

“I knew that I care about equality, so I deluded myself into thinking that I wasn’t part of the problem. I assumed that my passive concern would be enough. Passive concern never is.”

Yong’s heartbreakingly honest revelation, and several others like it, spurred our desire to dig in on ways that writers, marketers, and communications directors can build equity and break bias in their storytelling, and his story has stuck with us for many years.

But it wasn’t just Ed who we spoke with in 2018. We were joined by his partner, the brilliant Liz Neeley, founder and principal of Liminal Creations, where she focuses her time and talent on science communication. Liz served as Executive Director of The Story Collider through August of this year, shepherding real and deeply personal stories of science and living through on-stage events and their eponymous (and extraordinarily popular) podcast. Together, they had a lot to say on the topic of equity in storytelling.

Liz Neeley and Ed Yong are extraordinary people and exceptional journalists and communicators. We love this conversation and we’re sure that you will, too.

Links & Notes

In season three of Mission Forward, Carrie Fox welcomes Natalie S. Burke explore the state of our collective health in the wake of the pandemic and what's necessary to bring us back together. They talk with experts, truth tellers, and firebrands who work and move among us to see what lies at the intersections of identity, value, and power.

Natalie S. Burke

A nationally-known speaker, “equity evangelist,” strategist, master facilitator, and public health leader, Natalie provides executive leadership for CommonHealth ACTION whose mission is to develop people and organizations to produce health through equitable policies, programs, and practices. Natalie joins Carrie as co-host for Season 3 of Mission Forward.


Carrie Fox

Carrie Fox is the founder and CEO of Mission Partners, a woman-owned strategic communications firm and Certified B Corporation that guides high-potential nonprofits, foundations, and socially responsible corporations in realizing their greatest social impact. Since launching her first firm in 2004, she has guided hundreds of organizations around the world to lead with purpose, fueling organizations and their missions forward in new and more impactful ways.