NASW Community Check In Round 2: Summary

Earlier this month, we sent out our second community check-in survey to learn what needs and concerns are top of mind for members a few months into the pandemic and amidst efforts to address systemic racism in our country and our field. We received responses from 282 members, or 11% of our ~2,500 member-strong community. This is 58 more than completed early April’s community check-in, which was sent out a few weeks into the pandemic. (For more details on who responded, please see the final section.)

Thank you to everyone who responded and to those who are working each day to support or produce accurate science coverage and making individual and institutional efforts to address racism.

A few months into the pandemic crisis, what's resonating with NASW members?

We asked members to respond to a question that allowed multiple choices of top professional needs. Most of the answer options were the same as in April’s check-in, with new choices added to reflect evolving COVID-19 concerns and those prompted by ongoing protests of systemic racism and police brutality in the U.S. An open-ended reply allowed members to expand on their answer or list additional concerns.

As with the first check-in, an overwhelming majority of respondents (74%) named concerns about job security, new employment, or future freelance income. The second most-noted concern was the struggle to balance work with other demands related to family or others, which 35% of respondents cited, compared to 45% in the first check-in. The third most-selected option was new to this survey: 30% of respondents said they were uncertain about returning to the office or school, or about traveling for work. Similar to the first check-in, about a quarter of respondents cited missing peers due to closures as a top concern. Just over 1 in 5 respondents said addressing systemic racism in their work, workplace, or profession was a top concern, and 2% noted they are facing systemic racism in their work, workplace, or profession. An additional 1 in 5 respondents said they are struggling to figure out how to address misinformation in their community. Compared with the April check-in, almost half as many respondents report that finding sources or figuring out how to properly cover COVID-19 are top concerns.

More than half of respondents used an open-ended section to elaborate on their choices and describe their current feelings. Words like anxious, worried, and fatigued predominated as members described a confluence of myriad political, economic, and public health issues as well as demands on their time from all directions. One respondent noted that it felt like being an octopus and having something pulling on every arm. Several expressed concern about returning to offices or interacting with colleagues and/or community members who may be less cautious about protecting themselves from COVID-19, with a few mentioning that they felt they could not speak up or refuse to return to the office without putting their job in jeopardy. The theme of having trouble staying motivated in the face of uncertainty was also common in the comments.

Many respondents also cited concerns about systemic racism, with several expressing the feeling that efforts to address racism will not produce substantial change or that change does not seem to be happening quickly in their own institutions. Others expressed hope that recent protests and attention to the entrenched issue of systemic racism would bring more diversity to coverage and to the field of science writing and were proud to see community members and the larger journalism community calling out racism.

How can NASW help members? How can we help each other?

As was the case in our April check-in, many respondents asked NASW to continue to create opportunities for networking and connection. These requests frequently included references to feeling increasingly isolated as the pandemic continues and as uncertainty about its duration intensifies.

Many of the 157 responses to this open-ended question asked for more resources on racism, from ways to cover the intersection of social and science topics in their work to discussion on how members can discuss racism, push their employers to do more, and address bias, implicit or otherwise, in journalism.

With income and job security a top concern, members also requested additional resources in that area, including working with other organizations to advocate for protections for media and unemployment coverage for freelancers. A subset of responses also converged around resources to help address or increase productivity or develop effective work-from-home routines.

What’s a bright spot for you right now?

Eighty respondents answered this question. Some mentioned an increased interest in science coverage by the public. As many responses cited specific coverage of COVID-19 of which they were proud, as they did for work on racism or diversity. Others expressed gratitude that their employers were finally addressing racism; that long-awaited magazine issues are going to print; that new online resources, newsletters, and blogs abound; and that employers are discovering that working from home can be a viable option.

Our continuing and expanded response

We hear you. We miss you, too! Our #SciWriCoffee series experiment in May and June proved a positive way to bring members together of various interests. 15-25 members attended each on average, and we used Zoom’s breakout-room function to create small groups. Be on the lookout for a new round of #SciWriCoffee sessions starting in August. We’re creating a small volunteer group to host these sessions, and we’ll offer them at various times and days to try and find times that work for as many people as possible. We’ll also advertise them well-ahead of time. We realize that Zoom is not accessible from many government-based platforms, and we’ll look for an additional, affordable platform to experiment with as well.

We hope that many of these discussions can address specific needs mentioned above and that some, like the group who met in May and created a misinformation resource on from their discussion, will lead to community-developed resources. Speaking of the critical issue of addressing misinformation, we have several projects in development for the coming months and year to foster media literacy.

We’re also hard at work preparing for our virtual ScienceWriters conference. ScienceWriters2020 will run online October 19-23, with satellite events scattered throughout the month. Look for full program information at on August 11. We’re slashing registration fees in half and building in many opportunities for directed and informal networking.

Finally, we are working on multiple fronts, in coordination with other organizations, to advocate for protections for writers, businesses, and freelancers, including efforts to ensure that those who receive both 1099 and W9 income are not left out of unemployment assistance provided by the CARES Act or other legislation.

Stay safe, stay strong, and know that we are so grateful for your support of each other and the community.

In gratitude,


Tinsley Davis

Executive Director

Who responded?

NASW is a community of more than 2,500 journalists, authors, editors, producers, public information officers, students, and others who write and produce material intended to inform the public about science, health, engineering, and technology. We received responses from 282 members (11%). This is 58 more than responded to early April’s community check-in, which was sent out a few weeks into the pandemic.

Of the 266 respondents who chose to answer two demographic questions, 74% identified as female (compared with 63% who identify as female in the annual general membership survey, the most recent version of which will be published in the forthcoming Summer/Fall issue of ScienceWriters magazine), 24% as male, and 2% and genderqueer/non-binary. 90% identified as white, 6% as Asian/Islander, 2% as Hispanic/Latino, and 1% as Black or African American. For comparison, in the annual general survey, 82% of NASW members identify as white, 4% as Asian or Pacific Islander, 3% as Hispanic or Latino, 2% as South Asian, 1% as Black or African American, and less than 1% Native American or American Indian with the remainder opting not to respond.

Similar to April, the majority of respondents, 57%, freelance full or part time, somewhat more than the ~50% reported in the annual membership survey. 28% of respondents work for a university, government, foundation, or institution as a science writer or public information officer; 13% are staff journalists or editors; 12% of respondents are other #scicomm professionals; 5% are students; and 3% are professors.

July 29, 2020

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