NASW Community Check In: A round up and our response

April 20, 2020

Dear member,

Earlier this month, 223 members responded to a NASW community check-in. Hearing from about 10% of our membership was enormously helpful in informing ways that we can better help you. Thank you for taking the time to get in touch. Below we talk about some of the new, and ongoing, initiatives borne of member feedback and volunteers' creativity. Feel free to skip to the "Starting next week" portion if your time is limited.

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

In response to a question that allowed multiple choices of top professional needs, an overwhelming majority of respondents (77%) named concerns about job security, new employment, or future freelance income. Almost half of respondents (46%) cited the struggle to balance work and demands from family or others as a major concern. With so many office closures, school closures, and event cancellations, 26% of respondents indicated that missing their peers is top of mind. A quarter felt stuck in decision fatigue. Finally, about a fifth of respondents reported struggling to figure out how to properly cover COVID-19 or find sources available for those assignments.

Reading through the open-ended comments, it became clear that many respondents are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or fearful. For those covering the pandemic or working for institutions with pandemic-related research, work can seem never-ending, with added strain from juggling family or other responsibilities and, in some cases, worries for personal safety while working. Respondents expressed feeling fortunate to have work to do while simultaneously feeling pressure from an increased workload, with some noting that they are even busier despite not having a commute. Respondents also expressed gratitude for working in a field that feels especially meaningful during the current crisis and noted that they were gratified to be able to do something to contribute to a societal response.

Still other members have struggled to find assignments or place stories not related to the pandemic and worry that important science will go uncovered. Respondents who lead teams reported concern in trying to figure out how best to support their colleagues. At a larger scale, respondents worry about the effects of misinformation on society and the financial impacts of the economic crisis on already strained journalism outlets. Running throughout many comments were common threads: a struggle to focus on work that requires sustained attention or creativity and a general feeling of sluggishness. Words like untethered, uncertain, struggling, and unfocused predominated.

NASW is a community of more than 2,300 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. Of those responding to this check-in, 63% freelance full- or part time, compared with about 50% in the general membership. Likewise, 74% identify as female, above the 64% who identify as female in the annual general membership survey. Finally, 80% of respondents identify as white, 6% as Asian or Pacific Islander, 4% Hispanic or Latino and less than 1% identify as Black or African American, Native American or American Indian, or South Asian. In the annual general survey, 80% of NASW members identify as white, 3% as Asian or Pacific Islander, 2% as Hispanic or Latino, 2% as South Asian, 1% as Black or African American, and less than 1% Native American or American Indian. In each instance, some preferred not to answer.

Where are the bright spots?

When asked to share bright spots, respondents expressed excitement over speed-learning virology, enjoyment of the refreshing ability to see co-workers in their natural environments at home, satisfaction in finding creative new angles on COVID-19, and pride in working in a field that is critical for society. Some noted that their work in science communication seemed to receive more appreciation now. Respondents were also proud of their teams and their colleagues for pulling together and offering mutual support. Some shared that working remotely has enabled creativity and collaborations and built skills for work in virtual environments, illuminating the value of tools they may have hesitated to embrace previously.

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

When asked, in an open-ended question, how NASW can help, respondents encouraged us to continue to post job and funding opportunities, develop new sources of funding, and unpack and communicate the applicability of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to those who have lost income.

They requested resources to address the challenges of trying to work at home in the midst of a global crisis, including tips on how to write in short bursts and develop recognition by managers, leaders, colleagues, and peers that mental health is paramount.

They asked for connection to other members. These requests fell into the general areas of social connection, moral support, and mentoring.

Some respondents asked to be involved, reaching out with generosity to offer time for one-off volunteer efforts.

Our response

In reading through the words of each member who replied to the check-in, I found comfort. I felt sadness, and I smiled, often in response to the same paragraph. I saw myself. I felt not so alone. It is my hope that by sharing the community's responses that you, too, find comfort. It is OK to be overwhelmed. It is OK to feel like that to-do list does nothing but get longer. It is OK to be simultaneously grateful to be busy and stressed out by being busy. It is OK to worry or be distracted, to feel like 1 p.m. might as well be midnight. It is OK to eat potato chips for dinner. (I have had all those feelings/done all those things in just the last day.)

We are not alone. We have each other.

Later this week, we'll be rolling out ways for NASW members to connect with each other (virtually) face-to-face. We already have our online email discussion groups, including the new COVID-19-focused group thanks to the Journalism Committee, and we think there's additional benefit in having opportunities to interact in real time via video. We'll offer facilitated Zoom discussions for interest groups to share tips, stories, and the opportunity to simply connect, and we'll work on more formal, professional development-oriented sessions as well. Watch for details.

We will continue to develop resources to aid our community. We have added a Business & Finance section to the COVID-19 resource page with information on unemployment and other financial assistance for employees and freelancers, and we are, in concert with other organizations, working to ensure that legislation protects journalism and the ecosystem that produces it. The PIO committee recently released a tip sheet for those working in communications that includes a section on leading with empathy, which leaders in any field should read, and the Freelance Committee helped us all out early on by developing a resource for working at home like a pro. The Education Committee is working to develop a virtual summer mentoring program for students whose internships have been cancelled or postponed. We're also working with our partners at the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing to determine the safest path forward for the annual ScienceWriters conference. We will also repeat the community check-in surveys periodically to make sure that we're staying in touch with what's needed most as the crisis evolves.

In the interim, if you can, please take the time to check in on a fellow member. Say hello, offer a supportive note, and just take the time to listen. Most importantly, take the time for good self-care. Do it for yourself and to help make it the norm for those around you.

In gratitude,

Tinsley Davis, Executive Director

April 17, 2020

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