NASW membership categories (part 2)

This document is the second part of the record of a discussion that took place on the NASW-Freelance mailing list from July 10th through July 19th, 1997. It deals with the issue of the various categories of NASW membership. Part one. | Part three.


Message From: Stephen Hart Date: Fri, 11 Jul 1997 12:24:50 -0700 Subject: Re: NASW president's letter

I wrote an extensive response to the proposed changes to the NASW constitution when it was being discussed among freelance committee members. I assume that those bon mots reached the board and don't need to be repeated here.

The current discussion appears to revolve around internal NASW politics. (My opinion is that preventing members from serving as officers is tantamount to taxation without representation.)

But NASW membership has (or should have) practical value. In the recent past, we've succeeded in convincing AAAS to accept active NASW membership as bona fide press credentials for freelancers. The fight goes on with other organizations that sponsor national meetings.

How will the loss of those credentials affect freelancers financially? Will NASW membership confer enough advantages, to retain freelancers members and attract new ones?

I've spoken up repeatedly against fragmentation of NASW membership (already occurring with nasw-talk, nasw-freelance, nasw-pio), but if the proposed changes take place in NASW, perhaps a National Association of Freelance Science Writers could serve better.

Steve



Message From: Vonnie Date: Fri, 11 Jul 1997 15:45:03 -0400 Subject: New words

On other subjects: Re NASW membership designations: I find it useful to be categorized as a journalist, because of the mailings I receive. It would be equally useful to me to be categorized as a non-medical science writer (which would cut the number of mailings by at least half). I'm undoubtedly living in an insular professional world, but the rest of the NASW debate doesn't interest me much. I'm glad that the organization exists, pleased that the newsletter and mailing lists exist, but I don't much care whether NASW calls me an "active" member or changes the word to something else. As long as NASW is helpful to the profession and to me, I'll keep paying my dues and participating in a very minor way. I don't have any suggestions on how to reform the Constitution.

Re: Cats. I don't have any pets other than the sourdough starter. My toddler, however, just discovered hammers, and how to get to my toolbox. I always thought it was just a metaphor, but I've found that to a little kid with a hammer, everything (including forks, keyboards, windows, plants, and pens) really does look like a nail. He hasn't broken anything important, so far, and he has learned not to hammer anything that moves, like fingers, toes, neighborhood cats, and fans.

Von


Yvonne Carts-Powell Writing about photonics and the Internet 49 Gilbert Road vonnie@apocalypse.org Belmont MA 02178 (617)484-9679 (invalid link)




Message From: Bill Thomasson <71101.2601@CompuServe.COM> Date: Fri, 11 Jul 1997 16:07:28 -0400 Subject: Re: NASW president's letter

Michael Kenward wrote: "What other people are there? You either write, edit, or otherwise communicate, for a living? Or you do something else that is on the fringes, usually PR.

"We have full members in broadcasting, writing and museums. However, a PR person for a broadcaster, museum etc would be an associate.

"Another proviso is that you need to earn most of your money from your writing. So an academic who dabbled and wrote the odd piece for, say, New Scientist, can be an associate. (Some of the beasts end up full time and we have to chase them to become full members.)

"Our rules are open to interpretation. When a member applies, the committee discusses the application. There is rarely any argument. (We meet monthly and handle perhaps a dozen applications per month.)

"We don't have any elitist notion that an editor of Nature is any more legitimate than, say the editor of a publication from our equivalent of, say, the NIH. If anything, you could say that Nature is more 'commercial' and 'suspect'."

Very interesting. And enlightening because it shows how different slants are possible on the same thing. If I understand you correctly, your associates are mostly that subset of PR people who do primarily media relations. Someone whose primary job was writing promotional pieces would be a full member. That's very, very different from the way NASW does these things.

Bill Thomasson



Message From: Norman Bauman Date: Fri, 11 Jul 1997 13:49:55 Subject: Re: President's letter

I don't think that Technology Review, Physics Today or Science are "devoted to informing the public." They inform specialty audiences. That sounds like one of those high-minded phrases that we ignore. If we do revise the constitution, we should delete it.

(As I understand from the past discussion here, writers for those publication wouldn't literally qualify for ASJA membership.)

The significant distinction seems to be the one about being "principally engaged" more than 50% of your time promoting a product. That sounds reasonable. I haven't seen any reason why that standard should change.

The "highest standards of journalism" sounds like another high-minded meaningless phrase. What does that mean--everybody should be above average? I think we should either define those standards or (probably) delete it. If we didn't kick out Zahn, who did PR for the tobacco industry, we're not going to kick out anybody.

At 12:05 PM 7/11/97 -0400, Richard Harris wrote: > >We have not discussed exactly how to define "journalist," but I would fully >expect that the definition should be broad enough to include freelance >members who write regularly for publications such as Technology Review, >Physics Today, Discovery Online, Science, Discover and so on. The point is >we want NASW officers to be people who operate under journalistic principles >and who are so regarded by their peers. > >... here's how the constitution currently defines "active" membership. > >"Active membership shall be restricted to those persons principally >engaged in the preparation and interpretation of science news... through >all media normally devoted to informing the public...

>provided that no person shall be admitted to active membership >whose efforts are primarily directed to the promotion of a product or an >organization." > >Note the term "principally engaged." As a practical matter, it has been >defined as someone who earns at least half of his or her income through >"preparation and interpretation of science news... in keeping with the >highest standards of journalism." If we don't change our constitution, >this will remain the standard.



Message From: Mary Knudson Date: Fri, 11 Jul 1997 15:31:46 -0500 Subject: re President's letter

Like Joel, I thought I would not jump back into the discussion. But I need to respond to two recent posts. Richard, I'm glad you're following the discussion. You said: "Nobody on the NASW board would suggest a definition so strict that any non journalistic work would disqualify them from being an officer." Like Joel and myself, you waded through so much discussion on this issue on the board listserv, you must have just forgotten. One of our current board members made a strong and repeated point on the board listserv that if an NASW officer did even one assignment during an entire year for an organization that was not a recognized media organization, then that officer should resign that year, but would be eligible to be an officer the next year if he/she did 100 percent journalism the next year. There was also discussion that, depending on what freelance members did each year, they may be assigned active status one year and associate the next. You quoted the current constitution which sets a much more liberal standard. I've simply come out in favor of keeping what exists (except for changing the term 'active.' So if you come down in favor of keeping that description in our constitution, then you and I will agree.

Rick Borchelt, I know you feel deeply about this issue, and you feel in fairness that freelancers should not be able to be active members if they do the same work that PIO's or science writers on staff at universities and non profits do. But I didn't understand much of your posting. You said: "I would be very disappointed if the impression over the past few posts has been that this is a Mary vs Richard activity with Joel as referee."

How could anyone think that? I certainly don't see it that way. And Joel as referee? Joel stated that he has argued long and hard that the system is not broken and shouldn't be fixed. Joel and I share the same position. So does Tammy Powledge, another member of the freelance committee who posted her opinion in this forum. I felt that as a freelance member of NASW who is both on the freelance committee and an officer, I had an obligation to put this issue before our freelance members and ask them to read Richard's entire letter. I also felt I should respond to some of his points. That by no means makes this a Richard vs Mary issue. I expect that Richard and I share the same journalistic values and approach to our work. For 21 years I did absolutely nothing but fulltime newspaper journalism, and the same journalistic ethics and approach I used then continue to guide my work. As I said on the board listserv, I've turned down at least a dozen job offers because I didn't feel comfortable that they would fit with my concept of being a journalist. But I don't know of a single freelancer who doesn't sometime do an assignment for a non profit organization or other non-media organization. Many of our members do much more of a mix, and I suspect there are some whose mix of work makes them more truly classified as associate than active. But I think you threw out a red herring by saying you wouldn't think it was fair for a freelancer who spends 90 percent of his/her time doing "the same duties as a PIO"... to be elected an officer when a PIO who does essentially the same job is not allowed to be an officer. I can't believe that the NASW nominating committee would nominate someone to be an officer who spends 90 percent of his/her time doing PIO work. I disagree with one of our freelance members who said freelancers "go where the money is." I'm not at all opposed to making money, but that's by no means my sole criterion in deciding what I'll do. I don't do PR work. I have been extremely selective in what I've done for a non profit foundation and once for a university. I've never done any corporate or government work. Right now I'm spending a lot of time on a book and working toward a deadline on an article for a magazine that is in the short list Richard mentioned in his posting. I've organized and will moderate an all-day seminar on science writing to be held in November at the Smithsonian that features four prominent science writers (two of whom were featured very recently in the NYT book review). For the first time in my life, I actually get paid for organizing a science writing meeting. This one is open to the public. And I've been engaged to teach a course this fall in science writing to graduate students at Johns Hopkins University. What I teach is journalism. None of these are PIO duties. A number of fulltime staff journalists teach a journalism course at an area university. A freelancer should certainly be allowed to do what a fulltime staff journalist is allowed to do. This is far different than doing PR work for a university and it does not carry with it the assorted committee and university promotion work that a fulltime university professor would have to do. So I'm not sure what your concern is, Rick. To my knowledge no freelancer has ever been nominated to be an officer who does essentially PR work. You gave another example that a freelancer who derives all his/her income from writing for a non profit's magazine should not be allowed active membership status while a staff writer for the same magazine is classified as associate. I agree completely, but I'd be surprised if such a freelancer exists. So why bring it up? By our nature we do a variety of things during a year.
Methinks you protest too much.

Finally, I don't remember whether it was Rick or Richard who said no one is suggesting that freelancers send in a yearly list of clips or clients. Well, that was discussed, and, more importantly, it's alluded to in Richard's letter at the top of page 18 in SW. Richard says: "One result may be that freelancers might have to submit more detailed information each year to assure that they are being placed in the correct categories."

For those who don't know us, Rick, Richard and I have all been friends and close working colleagues in the past, and I sincerely hope that continues. I agree that it is very difficult to discuss a topic that is many-layered and can be contentious on a listserv. I would like to bow out and let our many other members continue the discussion or give Richard (and Joel and myself if you don't want to post here) your comments. I trust the discussion will stick to how you feel about the issues and make suggestions for what to do or not do, and will not take on a quarrelsome tone. We will all benefit from that. I'm glad that the cat thread has gone along with this one, and I actually enjoy it more.

Cheers,

Mary Knudson



Message From: "Earle M. Holland" Date: Fri, 11 Jul 1997 18:09:34 -0400 (EDT) Subject: constitution issues

Bill Thomasson wrote regarding the composition of the constitution review committee:

>Interesting point -- especially since the rest of us had >not been informed of the committee's make-up. But given >that one of the main questions is the status of freelance >- -- and does anyone doubt that, in view of my quite >extensive comments on NASW On-Line last year, I am top of >Richard's mind -- it does seem strange that more >extensive freelance input was not sought.

As one of the PIOs on the the committee, I wanted to respond to this point. Frankly, there isn't enough bandwidth to respond to all his points -- many of which I agree with completely. While I am a PIO, I do freelance -- regular weekly gig with the NYT Syndicate -- so I believe Mary wasn't the only one thinking about freelancing issues. Even so, neither of us could possibly represent all of freelancing. When the discussion was expanded to the the whole NASW Board, Joel jumped into the discussion with both feet in his own inimitable fashion, and that helped immensely.

Bill's representation of the mixed bag that most freelancers carry -- and the similar smorgasbord that many of us carrying the PIO label have -- shows that professional writing/communication/reporting whatever is no longer as clean and simple as it used to be, and that the old categories are outdated.

I, for one, am supporting the one-category approach since any attempt to re-categorize the membership now will lack any enforcement aspect and therefore be a sham.

Earle Holland Director, Science Communications Ohio State University



Message From: "Earle M. Holland" Date: Fri, 11 Jul 1997 20:39:22 -0400 (EDT) Subject: re: constitution

Mary wrote:

>Second, when Richard convened the Constitution Committee, he did not >know that the issue of freelance membership would become a major topic >of discussion. He thought the main discussion would center on associate >and active categories, largely with regard to PIO's. That's why he >tried to balance the committee moreso between journalists and PIO's than >between freelancers and staff journalists. I accept that. I didn't >know before that the issue of freelancers grew mainly out of the >discussion within the Constitution Committee. So, let's not hold it >against Richard that only one freelancer was on the committee. That >committee has largely done its work now, and we move on.

As far as the finger-pointing toward Richard goes, Mary, and Rick before, are right that he's not to blame for starting this conversation. If you want to blame someone, blame me since I first raised the issue during committee discussions.

The reason for raising it was simple. PIOs have historically been labeled as something approaching prostitutes in that they -- we -- are paid by an instutition, a university, or whatever. Furthermore, it doesn't matter how good the science writing is that's done by these folks since they're all in the pay of some plotting entity out to deceive the public (excuse the emphasis, please). That meant that writers at universities who do no PR work, no hawking stories, or spinning the news, were still tainted 'cause they worked for XYZ University.

I initially made the comparison that if the determinant is who signs the paycheck, then we ought to look at our freelance membership since by the very nature of the beast, freelancers are trying to earn a living and often do science writing for non-traditional outlets. If that is true -- which we all admit it is -- then freelancers who accept pay from those same or similar institutions should be viewed in the same way those PIOs are seen.

That's the logic, folks, and I think it remains simple and clear: If we're gonna classify one group of members based on who pays their checks, then we ethically have to judge all our members that way. How can an organization built on journalistic standards which most of us, anyway, work like hell to uphold, operate under a double standard. There are a great many exceptional science writers in our organization who have chosen to ply their trade at institutions, just as freelancers have elected to be their own bosses, and staff writers have elected to work in the security (yes, and frustrations) of their organizations. I just believe that a person, an NASW member, should be judged by the quality of their product and the professional journalistic integrity they live by.

In my view, Mary (as an example only) is an excellent science journalist and, if you will, a purist. I'd bet the the majority of our freelancers don't hold as strictly to the criteria she cites as her own. But even if they don't, I don't consider them lesser for it. There certainly are PIOs at universities whose jobs depend on them pitching stories and courting media, not on writing about science, and there are a large number who do varying degrees of both. And if we're honest, we'll admit that there are active members/staff journalists who bend the rules everyday. My sole point is that if we as an organization are going to function professionally, then the basis of our rules have to be arguable across all categories.

Lastly, people need to realize that this discussion, first on the committee, then with the full board, and lastly here on the listserves has been and is a passionate one. People have gone way beyond frankness and friendships and relationships have been severely jeopardized in the process, but in the end people continue to talk with each other because of the mutual respect we have for one another. We are more alike than we are different and that should bring us together instead of separating us.

Earle Holland Ohio State



Message From: Bill Thomasson <71101.2601@CompuServe.COM> Date: Fri, 11 Jul 1997 22:18:34 -0400 Subject: Re: president's letter

Steve Hart wrote: "The current discussion appears to revolve around internal NASW politics. (My opinion is that preventing members from serving as officers is tantamount to taxation without representation.)

"I've spoken up repeatedly against fragmentation of NASW membership (already occurring with nasw-talk, nasw-freelance, nasw-pio), but if the proposed changes take place in NASW, perhaps a National Association of Freelance Science Writers could serve better."

I'm confused. Maybe because (like most members of this list) I had no opportunity to see your earlier comments. But wouldn't having a single category of membership -- if that's what you're opposed to -- decrease rather than increase fragmentation?

And, of course, the present constitution -- if that's what you're supporting -- already denies some members the right to hold any office except certain board seats. In fact, the people eligible to hold office under Richard's proposal are precisely those eligible to hold office under the present constitution.

So, for the benefit of us dummies, maybe you could explain just what you mean?

Bill Thomasson



Message From: Bill Thomasson <71101.2601@CompuServe.COM> Date: Fri, 11 Jul 1997 22:18:29 -0400 Subject: Re: president's letter

Mary Knudson wrote: "I disagree with one of our freelance members who said freelancers "go where the money is."

When I wrote, "freelances who go where the money is," I failed to realize how easily that could be mistaken for, "freelances, who go where the money is." (Amazing what a difference a single comma can make!) I'm sorry for not being clearer.

"I've organized and will moderate an all-day seminar on science writing to be held in November at the Smithsonian that features four prominent science writers (two of whom were featured very recently in the NYT book review). For the first time in my life, I actually get paid for organizing a science writing meeting. This one is open to the public. And I've been engaged to teach a course this fall in science writing to graduate students at Johns Hopkins University. What I teach is journalism.
None of these are PIO duties."

Even though Mary (unfortunately) won't be rejoining the discussion, I think it is important to point out that these activities, of which she is justifiably quite proud, would make her an "associate" member if they represented the major part of what she did. The fact that they aren't PR work may be important to her personally, but are irrelevant to the question of "active" vs. "associate" status.

Bill Thomasson



Message From: Larry Krumenaker Date: Fri, 11 Jul 1997 16:48:56 +0000 Subject: Re: President's letter

At 04:05 PM 7/11/97 +0000, you wrote: > >Nobody on the NASW board would suggest a definition of "journalist" so strict >that any non-journalistic work would disqualify them from being an officer. We >have not discussed exactly how to define "journalist," but I would fully expect >that the definition should be broad enough to include freelance members who >write regularly for publications such as Technology Review, Physics Today, >Discovery Online, Science, Discover and so on. The point is we want NASW >officers to be people who operate under journalistic principles and who are so >regarded by their peers.

Not trying to be facetious but...what about freelancers who don't get a "regular" beat in Discover or Popular Science but manage the occasional article? > >As a point of reference, here's how the constitution currently defines "active" >membership. > >"Active membership shall be restricted to those persons principally engaged in

>the preparation and interpretation of science news... through all media normally >devoted to informing the public; and shall foster the interpretation of science >and its meaning to society, in keeping with the highest standards of

I believe that this section allows book writers and new media writers in, which certainly includes freelancers.

>journalism... provided that no person shall be admitted to active membership >whose efforts are primarily directed to the promotion of a product or an >organization."

To my eyes, this means PIOs should not be admitted, since they actively promote their universities, government labs or companies. It would seem to me that this phrase is in definite need of revision!

> >Note the term "principally engaged." As a practical matter, it has been defined >as someone who earns at least half of his or her income through "preparation >and interpretation of science ncws... in keeping with the highest standards of >journalism." If we don't change our constitution, this will remain the >standard. > Richard, is "news" the principle criterion here? There are many NASW people who don't produce daily/weekly/even monthly pieces for newspapers/magazines yet produce science material. Book writers come to mind. Can you tell us if such "non-news" writing fits into this discussion about membership?

Larry



Message From: Larry Krumenaker Date: Fri, 11 Jul 1997 02:08:04 +0000 Subject: Re: NASW president's letter-a warning

Joel, my friend, I do have a question that I hope you will answer. Is what Richard saying in his letter, and what Mary reports a "done deal?" Will there be some kind of vote taken by somebody, membership or board, on the issues of freelancers' status? Or this all a trial balloon?

As someone who has literally been on both sides of the divide--and done exceeding well on both sides too -- your opinion is to be respected. So far I haven't seen much divisiveness in the list and for once I hope it stays that way. But if freelances, including you, a Pulitzer Prize winner, are to undergo an annual examination, NASW WILL cease to be a credible organization.

Larry



Message From: Richard Harris Date: Sat, 12 Jul 1997 14:25:04 -0400 Subject: constitution

To answer Larry's questions:

Nothing is a "done deal." Some board members favor retaining our existing membership categories, some favor a single membership category while requiring that officers and a majority of board members demonstrate that they are considered to be journalists by their peers. I remain open minded about what to do.

I posted the exact definition of "active" member because I wondered whether people who are advocating "no change" know what the status quo in our constitution really is. As I read it, it's pretty restrictive. The terms "news" and "journalism" figure prominently in the definition of an active member. I'm not sure that represents our common understanding of an "active" member.

As for Larry's point about PIOs: Indeed, that is the clause that says PIO's aren't "active" members of the organization... they are (in the words of our founders) "associate" members.

Richard Harris



Message From: Bill Thomasson <71101.2601@CompuServe.COM> Date: Sat, 12 Jul 1997 15:10:20 -0400 Subject: Re: NASW president's letter

Larry Krumenaker wrote: "But if freelances, including [Joel], a Pulitzer Prize winner, are to undergo an annual examination, NASW WILL cease to be a credible organization."

I think it is important to be very clear that if Richard's suggestion of a one-category system goes through, the only people undergoing an annual examination will be those seeking one of the top four offices. The question of an annual examination for everybody only comes up if we stay with the present constitution. I can't see the organization actually carrying out such an examination, though. It's really up to each of us -- something we should be doing now, slthough most of us probably aren't. For example, I still list myself as an associate member even though I think I probably should be active on the basis of last year's work. I haven't bothered to actually total things up, though, so I'm not sure: Last year wasn't a terribly good year overall, and the few hundred dollars NASW paid me for running the CompuServe site (which, of course, go on the associate side of the ledger) might swing it the other way.

Indeed, there are only two reasons for the organization to ever get involved in assigning categories at all. One is that so many of us are lazy about changing our category when our work mix changes. The other is that the serious mis-statements we've seen on this list about the nature of the associate category suggest that many people do not understand how the category is defined. So they could mis-classify themselves simply becuase they do not recognize that the majority of what they do is associate-type work under the constitution. Not a serious problem for ordinary members, even if we retain the two-category system, but it certainly seems reasonable to be certain that officers meet the criteria for holding office.

Bill Thomasson



Message From: Bill Thomasson <71101.2601@CompuServe.COM> Date: Sat, 12 Jul 1997 19:48:19 -0400 Subject: Re: constitution

Richard Harris wrote: "I posted the exact definition of "active" member because I wondered whetherpeople who are advocating "no change" know what the status quo in our constitution really is. As I read it, it's pretty restrictive. The terms "news" and "journalism" figure prominently in the definition of an active member. I'm not sure that represents our common understanding of an "active" member."

I'm glad Richard raised this point. Several other people have also tried to talk about the definition of "active" member, but the discussion has never really gone anywhere. I suppose that we have tended to assume that the point would become moot of the single-category proposal went through. But that's not correct: The definition would still govern eligibility to hold one of the top four offices.

As Richard points out, the simplest and most straightforward reading of this definition is pretty restrictive. It may not be too hard to understand that "journalism" can include feature writing -- although we've already seen in this discussion that not everybody does automatically understand it that way. But does the concept of "news" include magazine articles and books?

Remember that in the discussion where we developed the idea of two types of science writers, the feature writers were set off against the news reporters.

At another point, the constitution defines science writing in terms of delivering information to "the public." Again, the simplest and most straightforward interpretation is that this means the general (i.e., consumer-audience) public. And previous comments in this discussion have shown that some people do interpret it in precisely that way. Which would mean that, whatever the arguments about ASTRONOMY and SCIENCE NEWS, writers working for JAMA and C&EN would be clearly ineligible for "active" membership.

Obviously, this is not the definition under which we are currently sorking: Either we have strained the definition almost beyond recognition (engendering a great deal of confusion in the process), or we have simply ignored the constitution. And in my opinion, any organization that ignores its own constitution is in trouble.

So we need to somehow push and pull the definition of "active" member until it corresponds with what we mean by the term. Or else --

I'm just throwing out an idea here. But so many people have said something to the effect that, "associate members are PIOs," that I wonder if it might not make sense to flip the definitional paradigm: Associate members are those who devote the majority of their time to promotional activities, and everyone else is active.

Of course, there will still be gray areas: Is writing for STRITCH MD promotional? (My answer would be Yes, but others might think differently. As I said earlier, where you draw the line depends on where you sit.) But this is one set of gray areas. At a stroke you get rid of dozens of others, ranging from commercial newsletters to privately published consultant's reports to museun exhibit graphics. And people wouldn't have to worry that teaching a college course would tip them over to the "associate" side.

What do you think?

Bill Thomasson



Message From: awach@friend.ly.net Date: Sun, 13 Jul 1997 10:14:01 -0400 Subject: Re: constitution

Don't have an opinion, but cite personal experience to provoke thought. I was a tech writer for a major drug company for many years, and wrote a lot of science and medicine for scientists and physicians in the U. S., Europe, Asia and Scandinavia that appeared in the scientific and public media. As a corporate person I could not join NASW, but media liaison folks who worked with me were associate members, and we supported NASW with unrestricted grants for operations and events for many years. During those years I turned to the American Medical Writers Association as it evolved from a club for docs who write to include people in the academic, clinical and commercial aspects of health care who write for the docs and scientists but don't usually get their names on the work. After a decade I was elected to Fellowship by that group, more for service to the association than for journalistic achievement. Most of their meetings and workshops were designed to help professional writers do their jobs better, no matter where worked, as they are today. I am still a member today and still benefit from membership. But the day I became an NASW member two years ago was like a diploma to the real world of journalism, a validation of my decades-old journalism degree, and since then I've been able to earn a living as a freelance medical writer and editor. This bulletin board has helped me with guidance on the hardware and software I need to write and do research, advice on how to handle business situations that I never faced as a salaried employe, and advice on how to handle financial problems. [It's also called me names and fed me humble pie when I earned a slice.] It is an asset I don't wish to lose. I'm following the discussion closely and tentatively decided that if doing the odd job for a PR or agency or drug company disqualifies me from active membership, and this bulletin board stays available to non-members, I will participate and try to contribute but will not become an associate member. If the bulletin board is restricted to members only, I'll pay the fee to become an associate. I consider full-fledged membership an honor and hope that because my primary source of income is articles I write for medical and pharmacy news publications, and a health column in a local newspaper, I will continue to be eligible. Sincerely, Alan Wachter.



Message From: John H Tibbetts Date: Sun, 13 Jul 1997 10:49:03 -0400 (EDT) Subject: Re: constitution

On Sat, 12 Jul 1997, Bill Thomasson wrote:

> > I'm just throwing out an idea here. But so many people > have said something to the effect that, "associate > members are PIOs," that I wonder if it might not make > sense to flip the definitional paradigm: Associate > members are those who devote the majority of their time > to promotional activities, and everyone else is active.

This idea is a good one, theoretically. The problem is that everyone would have to be self-identified, and there could be misunderstandings. Or you would need a committee to decide what is promotional and what is not. Writers would have to send in clippings, etc.



Message From: Bill Thomasson <71101.2601@CompuServe.COM> Date: Sun, 13 Jul 1997 11:44:22 -0400 Subject: Re: constitution

John Tibbets wrote:

>> I'm just throwing out an idea here. But so many people > >have said something to the effect that, "associate > >members are PIOs," that I wonder if it might not make > >sense to flip the definitional paradigm: Associate > >members are those who devote the majority of their time > >to promotional activities, and everyone else is active.

This idea is a good one, theoretically. The problem is that everyone would have to be self-identified, and there could be misunderstandings. Or you would need a committee to decide what is promotional and what is not. Writers would have to send in clippings, etc.

But all this is equally true under the present definition. Only more so. And if we go to a one-category system, then -- unlike the system today, where everybody has classify themselves (we hope correctly) and change their classification as their work mix changes -- only candidates for the top four offices would be affected. Plus (need I point it out?) the fact that the definition is much simpler and more readily grasped than that in use today implies that problems of mis-classification should be correspondingly less.

Bill Thomasson



Message From: Stephen Hart Date: Sun, 13 Jul 1997 11:45:35 -0700 Subject: Re: president's letter

>I'm confused. Maybe because (like most members of this >list) I had no opportunity to see your earlier comments. >But wouldn't having a single category of membership -- if >that's what you're opposed to -- decrease rather than >increase fragmentation? >Bill Thomasson

Sorry for any confusion. My earlier comments to Joel and Mary only said many of the same things others have brought up in the recent open discussion.

My point in my recent post was that if NASW makes one category of membership, or includes freelancers in the associate category, membership will probably no longer function as press credentials for AAAS or other organizations. If that happens, what is the practical value of membership to a freelancer? If there's no practical value, might not many freelancers spend their dues and effort elsewhere?

Steve



Message From: Larry Krumenaker Date: Sun, 13 Jul 1997 23:11:53 +0000 Subject: president's letter

Steve, I must have missed that. Freelancers would be associate members? Only? Well, that would be one way to save Diane a lot of work on the membership database, mailing labels and rosters. I'm sure there would be a lot less activity on the "listservs" here.

And the budget would be so much more deficient. I can't imagine NASW actually pulling that off. It would be too detrimental!

Larry



Message From: Bill Thomasson <71101.2601@CompuServe.COM> Date: Sun, 13 Jul 1997 20:19:58 -0400 Subject: Re: president's letter

Steve Hart wrote: "My point in my recent post was that if NASW makes one category of membership, or includes freelancers in the associate category, membership will probably no longer function as press credentials for AAAS or other organizations. If that happens, what is the practical value of membership to a freelancer? If there's no practical value, might not many freelancers spend their dues and effort elsewhere?"

You may not be aware that AAAS currently grants press credentials to both active and associate NASW members. I can't speak for other organizations, since AAAS is the only meeting I've ever been to where NASW membership had any standing.

But I'm sure you are aware that many freelances currently are "associate members. And with that red herring about "a single non-journalistic client" now disposed of, those who might be classed as "associate" members in the future are those who are or should be so classed now. Although if my proposed redefinition of the two classes is accepted, there will probably be a few who will move from their current "associate" into the "active" class.

Bill Thomasson



Message From: Eric Bobinsky Date: Sun, 13 Jul 1997 21:43:37 -0400 Subject: Re: president's letter

At 11:45 AM 07/13/97 -0700, you wrote: > >My point in my recent post was that if NASW makes one category of >membership, or includes freelancers in the associate category, membership >will probably no longer function as press credentials for AAAS or other >organizations. If that happens, what is the practical value of membership >to a freelancer? If there's no practical value, might not many freelancers >spend their dues and effort elsewhere? > Just an aside- maybe the AAAS accepts the NASW card as credentials, but some government agencies (NASA-- for launches, DOE, DOD-- for lab visits) and science/engineering organizations did not (unless I backed it up with an assignment letter). Almost unfailingly, they did (somewhat surprisingly, I thought), accept my NWU press pass on its face. Well, it does look impressive...

Eric



Message From: Michael Kenward Date: Sun, 13 Jul 1997 18:06:41 +0100 Subject: Re: NASW president's letter

At 04:07 pm 11/07/97 -0400, Bill Thomasson wrote, among other things >>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Just in case you forgot what you wrote <<<<<<<<<<<<<<< > >Very interesting. And enlightening because it shows how >different slants are possible on the same thing. If I >understand you correctly, your associates are mostly that >subset of PR people who do primarily media relations. >Someone whose primary job was writing promotional pieces >would be a full member. That's very, very different from >the way NASW does these things. >

But what is a "promotional" piece? If it is a press release, then it is PR. But what if it is, say, an article that describes an area of research supported by a research council?

I have recently done one of these on research into engineering design. It is destined for the research council's "House magazine". However, I could also write a similar article for the magazine Professional Engineering. Indeed, the editor is interested in just such an article. I would write them a bit differently, because they have different readers. Is one promotional while the other is straight description?

Now, those familiar with the UK publishing scene will tell you that Professional Engineering is published by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Does this make it less "legit" than, say The Engineer, which is owned by a commercial publishing house. The two magazines have to operate as commercial activities. Their editors would certainly reject any "control", be it from the commercial or institutional owners.

In your own backyard, is National Geographic any less "commercial" than Scientific America?

PR versus science writing I can understand. I would have some difficulty in trying to define different types of "promotional" writing.

MK



Message From: Rick Borchelt Date: Mon, 14 Jul 1997 09:58:32 -0400 (EDT) Subject: Re: constitution revisions

While this issue certainly gets heated, I don't think it could ever get to the point that it nullifies long-time working relationships and friendships within the NASW. There will be points on which we disagree -- sometimes violently! -- but so far (IMHO) we've emerged from these discussions still good friends where we started out that way, and I trust our membership sufficiently that we can have productive discussions without getting unduly personal. That's why I very much appreciate Mary's comments about the long association many of us on the board have had with each other, and why I thought that this issue of changing membership requirements could be addressed now, by this board, where it has foundered into ad hominem attacks in the past.

We are at a unique point in this history of our organization: a founding generation of science writers is aging and retiring; a new generation of leaders is at the helm. I don't know that we have the data to demonstrate it, but I suspect the average age of our membership has never been lower. And technology is forcing change in the way we do business. As many in this discussion have pointed out, our constitution hasn't kept pace -- nor has our practice matched our constitution for many years. So while Mary can't realistically foresee many of the membership conflicts we're talking about, and I agree some are extreme examples to point out the absurdity of our current practice, none of us knows what the future would portends for this organization and this membership. And constitutions are meant to anticipate future needs, not just solve current problems.

The crux of this issue probably lies not in what the constitution says, but what it doesn't say. What is a journalist? What is a PIO? How do you tell the difference? At what level does the difference become real enough to affect the organization?

There is probably a small minority of our members who fit the traditional definition of science writer as embodied in the constitution and exemplified by the founding members. There is probably an equally small minority (self included) who fit the full-time model of media relations practitioner. For these two small groups, and us only, the proposed membership changes are more or less moot. The journalists lose no privileges. The best I can hope for is a less-onerous title than "associate" member, and maybe the chance to vote on some membership-wide issues and officers.

But these changes are critical for the vast majority of our members who do not easily fit one category or another. If we change the constitution or not, we're still going to have to wrestle with whether a staff reporter for Science deserves equal treatement with a staff reporter from Nature or from MIT Tech Review of from University X Research Magazine. And we're still going to have to deal with whether a freelance who writes for Howard Hughes Medical Institute deserves the same treatement as a freelance who writes for Discover. With all due reference to Joel's wish to leave well enough alone, I don't think a responsible organization can let issues of equity like this lie.

Under the one-category membership proposal, these decisions would have to made for only 4 people in the entire membership: the officers. I don't believe we help the organization by setting quotas for board representation of different kinds of members -- I believe that is the membership's call. To the best of my knowledge, there isn't the same kind of literary slavery in place at NASW that is the legal justification for affirmative action programs on behalf of racial minorities. But I do think the membership deserves to know whether its officers embody the best of journalistic practice -- most professional media organizations require this of their employees as a condition of work, and I believe we ought to do the same. So if you were an officer candidate, yes, I would expect that you would (grossly at least) identify your sources of income and expected income for the duration of your tenure.

Strictly applied, the current membership requirements in the constitution would probably bar half the current active membership from that category. We've responded to a clearly archaic system by being lenient and bending the rules; I'd prefer we be honest and change the rules. What I hope to see in this continuing discussion is what kind of rules we can live with ...

So, for the freelance membership, key issues:

1) Could you live with a one-category membership for NASW? (i.e., should there continue to be active and associate freelance members) 2) Do you feel you need a quota of board representation to adequately address your issues? 3) Should all members vote in a general election for board and officers? 4) Should officers be bona fide science journalists strictly defined (and how would word that definition and enforce it)?

Rick



Message From: Bill Thomasson <71101.2601@CompuServe.COM> Date: Mon, 14 Jul 1997 10:07:51 -0400 Subject: Re: NASW president's letter

Michael Kenward wrote: "But what is a "promotional" piece? If it is a press release, then it is PR. But what if it is, say, an article that describes an area of research supported by a research council?

"I have recently done one of these on research into engineering design. It is destined for the research council's "House magazine". However, I could also write a similar article for the magazine Professional Engineering. Indeed, the editor is interested in just such an article. I would write them a bit differently, because they have different readers. Is one promotional while the other is straight description?"

A PR professional would unhesitatingly tell you that the piece for the house magazine is promotional -- that it is PR. The primary purpose of the house magazine is to convince its readers that the research council is doing good work and should continue to be supported. That makes it promotional. The fact that 98% of what it does to accomplish this is to provide nearly objective information, with only the faintest of spins (perhaps even the same spin that a commercial publication would give it), is irrelevant.

But, as I've said before, where you draw the line often depends on where you sit. It would be interesting to hear from US science writers who view themselves as journalists. Do you think the publication's editor should be eligible for "active" membership, assuming we continue the present two-category system?

You also raise the question of magazines that are published by societies but are in fact expected to support themselves -- they are out there competing for advertising and subscribers with admittedly commercial magazines. I think we are all in agreement that these are non-promotional journalistic endeavors. The more interesting question relates to magazines such as JAMA and C&EN that societies publish as a service to their members. I don't think many people would call them "promotional," but it is not clear that they are devoted to informing "the public." Thus, it would seem that they fall into the category of writing that is neither journalism (as currently defined in the NASW constitution) nor promotion. Writers for JAMA have actually been classified as active members, but it is not at all clear that they should be under the current constitution. Under my proposed revision, their active status would be almost unquestionable.

Bill Thomasson



Message From: Larry Krumenaker Date: Mon, 14 Jul 1997 16:30:21 +0000 Subject: Rick's Survey

1) Could you live with a one-category membership for NASW? (i.e., should there continue to be active and associate freelance members)

Easily

2) Do you feel you need a quota of board representation to adequately address your issues?

Not sure I follow what you mean by a "quota."

3) Should all members vote in a general election for board and officers?

Yes

4) Should officers be bona fide science journalists strictly defined (and how would word that definition and enforce it)?

Not necessarily. There are some top-notch PIOs in our group who fully understand the needs of "working journalists." They can probably do a really good job as an officer--many of them have BEEN "working journalists" in past positions.

Larry



Message From: Larry Krumenaker Date: Mon, 14 Jul 1997 16:30:10 +0000 Subject: Re: president's letter

At 01:43 AM 7/14/97 +0000, you wrote: Eric,

I have to concur. As much as I value NASW, I've never needed the NASW credential beyond AAAS meetings. An assignment from a publication simply relayed over a phone call, not even a letter, usually works for me.

Larry


Message From: "Joel N. Shurkin" Date: Mon, 14 Jul 1997 10:11:26 -0700 Subject: Re: NASW president's letter-a warning

Larry wrote:

>Joel, my friend, I do have a question that I hope you will answer. Is what >Richard saying in his letter, and what Mary reports a "done deal?" Will >there be some kind of vote taken by somebody, membership or board, on the >issues of freelancers' status? Or this all a trial balloon?

Oh no. It is not a done deal. Richard and everyone involved wants general opinion from the membership and eventually, I suppose, there will be a vote. We can't change the constitution without one. I do point out that while we are all splendid people, we (those of us on the listserv) still represent a minority of the membership so we will have to go through all this again when we bring it up to the full membership. Richard wants input and that was the purpose of his letter



Message From: Stephen Hart Date: Mon, 14 Jul 1997 10:06:05 -0700 Subject: Re: president's letter

>You may not be aware that AAAS currently grants press >credentials to both active and associate NASW members. >Bill Thomasson

True, but to attend AAAS as a member of the press--if you're a freelancer--you have had to be an active NASW member, or supply a letter from an editor stating that you are covering the meeting for that publication. (What one commenter called the "Mother May I" letter.)

Also true that few, if any, other organizations respect NASW membership. It's my contention that we should move in the direction of making NASW membership of more practical value for freelancers.

Steve



Message From: Eric Bobinsky Date: Mon, 14 Jul 1997 13:56:54 -0400 Subject: Re: Rick's Survey

I generally agree with Larry's points.

At 04:30 PM 07/14/97 +0000, you [Larry K.] wrote: >1) Could you live with a one-category membership for NASW? (i.e., should >there continue to be active and associate freelance members) > >Easily

I support a one-category system, with admission to membership based on applicant's adherence to "dissemination of accurate information regarding science, through all media normally devoted to informing the public; and shall foster the ACCURATE interpretation of science and its meaning to society."

Yes, I know I deleted the end of the sentence, but I think it's a noble enough goal that includes journalism (news and features), books, and even educational and promotional work. I added another "accurate" because-- let's face it-- an awful lot of newspaper and broadcast science doesn't even come close anymore...and they don't even seem to care (just how many UFOs does it take to plug up the ozone hole during an El Nino, anyway? OHJ- Only Half Joking).

> >2) Do you feel you need a quota of board representation to adequately >address your issues? > >Not sure I follow what you mean by a "quota."

I did did, but on reflection I think the dues-paying membership should decide by open elections. > >3) Should all members vote in a general election for board and officers? > >Yes

Definitely.

> >4) Should officers be bona fide science journalists strictly defined (and >how would word that definition and enforce it)? > >Not necessarily. There are some top-notch PIOs in our group who fully >understand the needs of "working journalists." They can probably do a >really good job as an officer--many of them have BEEN "working journalists" >in past positions. >

No. I think election should be based on what they can actually do for the organization. The best leaders may not necessarily be the best journalists, however they're defined.

Eric Bobinsky



Message From: Eric Bobinsky Date: Mon, 14 Jul 1997 14:09:11 -0400 Subject: Re: president's letter

At 04:30 PM 07/14/97 +0000, you wrote: >At 01:43 AM 7/14/97 +0000, you wrote: >Eric, > >I have to concur. As much as I value NASW, I've never needed the NASW >credential beyond AAAS meetings. An assignment from a publication simply >relayed over a phone call, not even a letter, usually works for me. > > >Larry

Hi, Larry! How's the rat race?

I've found that true as well. Only time a pass seems to be called for is the ad hoc visit. Semi-humorous anecdote: I was in New Mexico last year and heard that Los Alamos was having a press conference. Never having been there I decided it might be interesting, but had no assignment. So I go up to the registration desk and whip out my NASW card. "The what?" she said. No go. So I take out my NASA ID (I still do consulting for them). "Sorry, can't accept another agency ID", she said, getting a bit hostile, "I need real press credentials." About to give up, I pulled out my brand new, laminated, $30 NWU press pass, complete with a clip and neck chain. Next thing I knew I was inside! Well, I still think it might have been a fluke, because I can't believe they didn't know NASW but had heard of the NWU. Maybe it was the card itself? I wonder if the NASW membership cards were designed the same way...

Hm...

Well, I'm still in the NASW because of the friendly folks I've met, at least virtually (such as yourself), not the credential (so why am I getting involved in the membership debate, he asks himself, over and over again...)!

Cheers! Eric



Message From: Henry Lansford Date: Mon, 14 Jul 1997 12:58:33 -0600 Subject: promotional writing

Bill Thomasson wrote:

>The more interesting question relates to magazines such as >JAMA and C&EN that societies publish as a service to their >members. I don't think many people would call them >"promotional," but it is not clear that they are devoted >to informing "the public." Thus, it would seem that they >fall into the category of writing that is neither >journalism (as currently defined in the NASW constitution) >nor promotion. Writers for JAMA have actually been >classified as active members, but it is not at all clear >that they should be under the current constitution. Under >my proposed revision, their active status would be >almost unquestionable.

Here are a couple more gray-area examples:

Several years ago, the American Meteorological Society hired me to write and supervise production of a booklet called "Challenges of the Changing Atmosphere: Careers in Atmospheric Research and Applied Meteorology." It was intended to promote meteorology as a career option for high school students. If you're interested, you can check it out at (invalid link) (I didn't do the Web page; the print version looks better.)

A couple of years later, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, a nonprofit consortium of North American universities, hired me as workshop editor for a two-week international ocean-atmosphere data workshop in Toulouse, France. I worked with scientists and research managers to plan, develop, design, and produce print and electronic publications for the workshop. On a separate contract, I also wrote an article about the workshop for the UCAR Quarterly, a newsletter designed to inform UCAR's university constituency about what's going on in the community. (This one is at (invalid link)).

If I also had been writing freelance pieces for publications aimed at the general public during this period, would/should those two publications have disqualified me for active NASW membership? (I dropped out of NASW for a few years, so the question didn't come up at the time.)

Henry


Message From: Bill Thomasson <71101.2601@CompuServe.COM> Date: Mon, 14 Jul 1997 15:09:18 -0400 Subject: Re: president's letter

Steve Hart wrote: "True, but to attend AAAS as a member of the press--if you're a freelancer--you have had to be an active NASW member, or supply a letter from an editor stating that you are covering the meeting for that publication. (What one commenter called the "Mother May I" letter.)"

When did AAAS policy change? Granted, it's been some time since AAAS met in Chicago, so it's been some time since I attended. But back then, whenever it was, I got in without a "Mother May I" letter.

This comes as a particular surprise because I would have thought, when NASW was publicizing its own meeting, it would have mentioned that only some members would have access to the concurrent AAAS meeting.

Bill Thomasson

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Message From: Bill Thomasson <71101.2601@CompuServe.COM> Date: Mon, 14 Jul 1997 15:09:13 -0400 Subject: Re: Rick's survey

Eric Bobinsky wrote: "I support a one-category system, with admission to membership based on applicant's adherence to "dissemination of accurate information regarding science, through all media normally devoted to informing the public; and shall foster the ACCURATE interpretation of science and its meaning to society."

Eric, let's be clear about this so that there is no possible misunderstanding: You wish to deny any form of membership, active, associate, or whatever, not only to all PIOs but to all writers whose primary outlets are not devoted primarily to informing the public -- for example, those devoted to informing members of a specific organization such as the AMA.

Is this an accurate statement of your position?

Bill Thomasson


Part one. | Part three.