2005 (February) Membership Meeting Minutes

By NASW Secretary Mariette DiChristina

An estimated 80 NASW members attended the news-filled annual membership and business meeting on February 16, 2005, in the Cafritz Conference Center at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The meeting commenced shortly after 5 p.m., at the conclusion of the best-attended NASW workshops ever.

NASW President Laura van Dam opened the meeting by thanking the board, immediate past President Deborah Blum, committee members, staff and volunteers for their efforts in creating this year's workshops. In a step toward holding a freestanding conference, the sessions were self-contained within the two days immediately prior to the beginning of the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Laura welcomed the new board members. She announced that Carol Ezzell Webb is stepping down from the office of treasurer because she is soon expecting to be a full-time mother of twins; Carol will stay on as a board member. Robert Lee Hotz, vice president and president-elect, will manage the treasurer's duties for the balance of 2005.

Laura congratulated Nancy Shute, chair, and Corrina Wu of the Membership Committee for winning this year's Diane McGurgan Service Award, in recognition for their terrific work in creating a booth at the Unity Conference, which is held once every five years and is the world's largest gathering of journalists of color. (More details below.)

Next, it was Ginger Pinholster's turn to offer warm thanks — and a "smoking pair" of Ferragamo shoes — to Lynne Friedmann upon the conclusion of Lynne's 10 years of service as a freelance consultant in charge of moderating the AAAS Annual Meeting news briefings.

On a sorrowful note, Laura announced that the much beloved Howard Lewis, who edited our own ScienceWriters for many years, passed away toward the end of last year. In his memory, people may mail donations to Diane McGurgan, who will forward them to two charities selected by Howard's widow.

Workshop coordinator Tinsley Davis and the dozens of volunteers got a round of applause for this year's program, which drew a record 507 attendees for the 13 sessions and included 37 speakers on topics from heady issues such as politics in science to the workaday essentials of our science-writing craft. The two field trips that occurred the day earlier were filled as well. Tinsley will be coordinator for the next workshops, in October 2005, as well.

Jeff Grabmeier and John Travis, co-chairs of the Education Committee, reported that the Mentoring Program had matched 23 aspiring science writers with veterans for an insightful day during the AAAS annual meeting. Terry Devitt reported that 14 organizations had signed up for the annual Internship Fair that weekend, and that he was expecting 40 to 50 students to interview for positions during the fair.

Glennda Chui, co-chair with new board member Tom Paulson of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Committee, said that the group's activities included setting up joint listserv with the Society of Environmental Journalists and the Society of Health Journalists, who share many issues of concern with NASW to facilitate discussions and decisions. The groups were among the unprecedented 4,600 individual journalists and organizations that signed petitions to support reporters' rights to protect their sources. In September NASW joined SEJ in protesting a proposal that would restrict the release of satellite images to the press and public. In July NASW, SEJ and SHJ wrote a letter objecting to the requirement that members of 27 friendly nations get special visas to enter the U.S. In May NASW and SEJ protested an OMB proposal that would have changed peer-review procedures, putting undue control over scientific findings in the hands of the White House. The FOIA committee declined to become involved with one individual's case, though Glennda said that they would be looking into how and whether NASW should assist with similar individual FOIA concerns in the future.

As head of the freelance committee, Dan Ferber thanked past chair Kathryn Brown for her work with this active group and Richard Robinson for his efforts on the Just for Freelance part of the Web site, which includes pages on negotiating contracts, creating successful queries and more. A database about pay rates is also underway. Among upcoming projects: a means to provide advice on contracts or other legal issues, articles on tax issues and other matters that concern freelancers, and help with grievances.

Kelli Whitlock, who with Mariette DiChristina co-chairs the Internet Committee, thanked cybrarian Craig Hicks, who came on board in April, and backup cybrarian A'ndrea Elyse Messer, for their work over the past year with our Internet service provider NICAR/IRE. Craig and A'ndrea strove to minimize service interruptions through software problems, hardware upgrades and staff transitions. After a number of bumpy weeks in early 2004, the Internet services have now been problem free for several months. Kelli said that groundwork for a Web site redesign began last fall, with a membership survey that drew 268 responses; the results will be shared on the site and via NASW-announce. Guided by the survey results, the committee is drafting an RFP for a Web designer.

Nancy Shute provided further details about the membership committee's work at the Unity Conference, which was held in August 2004 in Washington, D.C. NASW volunteers prepared four helpful tip sheets for reporters who don't normally cover science as a beat, manned the booth for four days and arranged for three top minority science writers speak at the booth: Edwin Chen of the Los Angeles Times; Diedtra Henderson (then of the Associated Press); and Warren Leary of the New York Times. The committee would appreciate suggestions for where it should put its efforts next.

Jon Franklin's ad hoc working group dealing with new forms of publishing recommends that NASW put various online resources and information concerning new publishing opportunities. We may be able to use money from the Author's Coalition for such member services; NASW gets funds from fees collected in Europe for reproduction of articles. Beryl Benderly is also gathering ideas for how to best use the windfall to benefit freelance members.

Interactions with the Council of National Journalism Organizations, which brings together some 50 different groups that seek to learn from each other, gave Laura ideas about how to improve NASW's outreach efforts, fundraising, conference topics, FOI matters, diversity and long-range planning. She and Deborah were among the 700 who attended the fourth World Conference for Science Journalists in 2004; Deborah is continuing as NASW liaison. At the conference, many groups courted NASW for advice on how to support science writing.

Laura announced that new board member Tom Paulson will serve as our liaison to the local science-writers chapters, in hopes that we can support their efforts at reaching out to the local science-writing communities.

Among the board decisions about which Laura advised members was that NASW hired an attorney to send a strongly worded letter to Seed. The letter said that we would no longer accept ads seeking writers until the magazine pays its authors and that NASW plans to stand behind its members. The board may pursue the matter further if necessary.

The Science in Society Awards are moving along with the NASW workshops, to October, which coincides with the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing annual meeting, this year to be held in Pittsburgh, Pa. Because the timeframe is too brief to ask for nominations this year, for next year's awards we are making a one-time eligibility extension for entrants, which will run from June 1, 2004, through December 31, 2005. Winners will receive their awards at the NASW annual meeting in October 2006. The 2006 categories will be book, magazine, newspaper, Web and a combined TV/radio. SIS Award co-chairs Bob Finn and Jon Franklin will provide further details shortly.

The board appointed an ad hoc task force of board members Sally Squires and Curt Suplee to develop ideas for improving our outreach efforts. Laura pointed out that science writers today face a remarkable confluence of factors. We see continuing layoffs of science writers at newspapers and magazines, and at the same time note growing numbers of freelancers and public affairs positions. Further, it seems that more people than ever are engaged in writing about topics related to science, though they don't think of themselves as "science writers." They may be narrative journalists, business writers or municipal reporters. We would like to reach out to such people, to help them do their jobs better. Laura said that the board also would like to meet with editors and publishers, to give them good, bottom-line reasons for why they should continue to have science coverage in their publications.

Lee gave the budget overview. In 2005 we will dip into savings for about $12,000 — roughly the difference in cost of having two annual meetings and workshops in the same calendar year, as we make the transition to a freestanding conference that occurs just before that of CASW. See page TK for budget details.

This announcement formed a natural segue for Lee to discuss the upcoming workshops in October. He recalled NASW's first, more humbly scaled workshops, in 1995 in Atlanta. Since then, the programs have grown in size and importance so that this year's meeting drew the science advisor to the President of the United States as a plenary speaker. Now, as we move to the stage of a full freestanding NASW meeting, we are joining forces with CASW, which has run New Horizons sessions for 42 years and earned a reputation for foreseeing important science news that will be big in the years ahead. The NASW meeting will be self-contained, and occur during the weekend before CASW's New Horizons. NASW's workshops will still require a fee, whereas CASW's New Horizons will continue to be free; the finances will be separate as well. Lee and Paul Raeburn, who is taking over from Ben Patrusky as CASW organizer, asked for volunteers to share ideas for worthy workshop topics.

NASW plans to retain a smaller, more focused presence during AAAS. The idea is to take advantage of the education efforts that are already underway, and in so doing to help continue to nurture the science-writing community of the future.

Discussion turned to the Author's Coalition funds. Lee said that we have received $58,000, and that we are obligated to spend the money within a year. The funds we receive will vary from year to year, and we have certain coalition-imposed restrictions for how to spend the money.

The meeting adjourned about 6:30 p.m.

October 2, 2015

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