A journalist’s journalist – Joan Trossman Bien (July 21, 1953 – April 26, 2018)
Joan Trossman Bien first contacted me April 16, 2009 about a possible joint writing venture commemorating the 50th anniversary of the worst nuclear meltdown in American history. The little known disaster was part of my extensive reporting since 1998 on the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL or Rocketdyne).
Normally I don’t take on writing partners, let alone strangers who suddenly appear and want to collaborate on a big story. But Joan was right on the money – a partial meltdown in the heart of Southern California at half a century was a hot idea.
The Sodium Reactor Experiment, or SRE, partially melted down in the summer of 1959 at SSFL releasing more radiation from its unfortified reactor building than did Three Mile Island’s partial meltdown in 1979. The 2,850-acre rocket testing and nuclear experimentation complex has still not been cleaned up despites decades of public pressure for comprehensive remediation.
It was a gutsy move on the part of Joan, whom I did not know. It also was the beginning of a beautiful writing partnership and friendship. In the process, I witnessed Joan’s prodigious output and was awestruck at how razor sharp this crack reporter was, righteous and effective, and yet funny, humane, loving and loyal.
This post and the cataloging of Joan’s work is my way of assuring that many of her abundant and remarkable creations are not lost. Joan and I had each other’s backs. Fans of fine journalism, and of Joan Trossman Bien, will be the richer for exploring her labors and legacy now that it exists online.
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Our professional relationship and friendship in the mortal realm ended suddenly April 26, 2018. Joan was 64 years old and is survived by her husband Steve and daughter Julie. They were so kind in their telling us of Joan’s passing.
“I wanted you to know that Joan was always grateful, and more than a little astonished, that you gave her the opportunity to work with you on the SSFL article,” Steve wrote May 3, 2018. “The publication of that article not only opened doors for her but gave her the confidence she needed to pursue the thing that she liked best, researching and writing about those things which she felt the public would benefit from knowing.”
Benefit they did and benefit they will. What hasn’t existed, until now, was Joan’s vast body of journalism online credited to her. We have fixed that. A substantial selection of her work is now and will remain available at Joan Trossman Bien Articles. This work has been catalogued on EnviroReporter.com with links to its original or updated source(s) as well as its backup on Archive.org.
Joan was such a friend and colleague that if the mortal gumshoe were on the other foot, she would have done this for me. As it is, EnviroReporter.com is honored to share her journalism which is now permanently saved in the Internet realm for its excellence, information and entertainment value.
Joan had a unique voice, this Chicago native who settled in Moorpark in Ventura County. She could write like she sounded, which is not easy. Joan’s dazzling intellect was graced by a rapier wit. From the get go, Joan was a blast, a rocket blast.
She got right to the point in her first email to me, an email that would lead to a potent writing partnership.
“You know, this July is the 50th anniversary of the meltdown,” Joan wrote referring to the Sodium Reactor Experiment. “Are you writing anything for it? Fifty years, and we still don’t know what really happened. Perhaps FOIA requests will be more effective with the Obama administration. Hmmmmm.”
At first, I was suspicious which was due in part to the nature of reporting on the old Rocketdyne property. My paranoia reasoned that Joan could be a troll trying to ferret out what I was working on.
Joan Trossman Bien turned out to be one of the most talented and driven journalists I have ever known. She could come up with umpteen article ideas that sparkled, investigate and master each subject at hand, then would pitch to places like the Ventura County Reporter, Moorpark Patch, Ventana and Pacific Standard magazine and get the gig.
Joan made these publications shine and it’s to their credit that they published her work though she was rarely paid a decent wage. The double indignity is that her work has been running without her byline or not being searchable in the publications for which she wrote, indications of the poor state of journalism at many media outlets.
EnviroReporter.com has remedied this. It is our distinct honor to host Joan’s work online. We bask in her radiance.
“So we fight the good fight,” Joan wrote me in August 2009. “As I told some jerk offering writers less than a penny a word, our work will live on long after he and his work have turned to dust.”
We’re making good on that even if some of the places she and I freelanced for didn’t. Joan knew she was creating good journalism and its preservation is paramount. “Now I feel much better about the power of writing and what it can accomplish,” Joan emailed two weeks later in 2009. “I also realized that journalism is much bigger now than the LA Times or Washington Post.”
Joan’s riotous musings made her emails also worthy of preservation. “Surprised that I am a fellow maniac?” she joked at the beginning of our journalistic journey together. “Funny, I don’t look it.”
Joan’s voice in her emails was indelible. “White women want to laugh and then eat superior chocolate,” she imparted to me in June 2011. “Simple yet oh, so tricky.”
Joan’s emails were full of love for her family and mine too. “Don’t know what I would do without Steve and Julie,” she wrote in July 2010. “I believe that a good marriage provides the most essential of sanctuaries: a soft place to land. I know you and Denise will forever be grateful that you took the plunge.”
We were and still are. I’m particularly grateful that Joan chose me to be her writing partner but to hear her tell it, it was the other way around. That was the only thing she was ever wrong about as far as I can see. Joan was the rocket that launched our investigation; I merely hung on for the ride.
Joan’s investigative journalist tenacity, whip-smart mastery of the science involved and the ability to sling prose that jumped off the page led to our co-bylined Miller-McCune piece 50 Years After America’s Worst Nuclear Meltdown.
The piece was a major success, crashing the publication’s server when it came out. Joan’s comments soon after its publication were sage indeed.
“This article should stand the test of time and be one resource on the issue that is comprehensive, well-written, well-sourced, and unbiased,” she wrote in August 2009. “Only time will tell if it actually changes anything. We will forget about our frazzled nerves and frustrations. I do believe that we have accomplished what we set out to do.”
Joan Trossman Bien also accomplished what she set out to do when she aspired to be an outstanding journalist who wrote stellar articles that helped people. We salute her and her family, friends and former colleagues.
We invite the reader to explore the superb writing that Joan Trossman Bien created and that is forever now saved to savor again and again.
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