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The Next Ninety Years: 90th anniversary address of the National Association of Science Writers

To our NASW members, colleagues in the media and the sciences, and everyone around the world who enjoys science news and stories — we offer you our sincerest well wishes for 2024. We do so with deep reflection on the world around us.

Since the founding of the National Association of Science Writers in New York City in the early 1930s, humanity has seen a number of events that changed history, society, and individual lives — as well as our relationship with this planet and the universe. Today, more than 2,800 members belong to our community of journalists, authors, editors, producers, public information officers, and many others who write and create material intended to inform the public. Together, we shape a landscape of media coverage in all areas of science, health, engineering, and technology for a world that depends on accurate, inclusive reporting and the free flow of science news.

The State of Science Writing Today

But 90 years on, all is not well. Despite the fundamental importance of accurate news reporting on the process, conduct, and discoveries of science, journalists and writers today face a litany of professional and personal challenges. Some are unique to the science news market — while others are shared with the entire journalism industry, following wholesale shifts in the media economy and the information technology landscape. These challenges pose real threats to the free flow of science news. As a membership organization serving and representing professional science journalists and science writers, we are compelled to respond to these dire trends.

Representative of the challenges of our times are these three concerns:

Journalist Lives and Safety: In the 21st century, reporters and other media workers remain a target for government, military, police, and criminal actors — and NASW stands in solidarity with journalism organizations from around the world in speaking out against these abuses. From Russia to México to China, journalists are at risk of harassment, detention, disappearance, and murder. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine beginning in February 2022 has seen at least 15 journalists and media workers killed. And as of February 2024, war in the blockaded Gaza Strip has claimed the lives of at least 88 journalists and media workers — making this the deadliest conflict for journalists in recent decades. NASW joins in support of the Jan. 8, 2024 letter led by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, and other signees calling for U.S. government action to ensure the rights of journalists to report on the Israel-Gaza conflict. NASW believes an attack on journalists anywhere is an attack on the freedom of the press everywhere — including infractions within the United States, which has also seen its share of incidents against journalists.

Layoffs, Generative A.I., and the Media Economy: 2023 saw widespread science journalism layoffs — and the damage continues into 2024. From the most senior and seasoned of science journalists and editors to mid- and early- career staff, few have been insulated from the effects of publishers gutting science coverage. Driving this reality are five factors permeating U.S. media companies today.

The first is the U.S. media industry’s continued inability to adapt its century-old, advertisement-driven business model to meet the digital age, a dilemma which private equity groups and wealthy investors claimed to have solutions for but have yet to address. The second factor — and the first victim of these corporate media contractions — is the closure of local newspapers across the U.S., creating news deserts, decreased local government accountability, and skewed media access and news literacy as readers shift to unvetted, partisan information sources.

The third factor: business executives at publishers are seeking to replace human work with A.I.-generated content in the name of cost-savings. So far, these efforts have ignored the ethical and accuracy safeguards needed to properly deploy such technology. Journalists and writers are pushed to the brink as a result — and staff reporters and media workers who remain employed are fighting to unionize in order to preserve their labor rights, benefits, and pay. Employers who refuse to recognize unions are the fourth factor — failing to engage in collective bargaining over the terms and conditions of employment when their employees vote to organize.

The fifth factor is the most somber, stacked against today’s inflation and high costs of living: payment rates have stagnated decade after decade for the science writing profession, according to historical data. For the scores of staff writers now seeking freelance work, this economic pressure will push many out of journalism entirely. NASW stands ready to collaborate with other journalism organizations and membership associations to support our communities in the trying years ahead.

Anti-Diversity Movements: History has taught us that the scientific advancements of the past 90 years must be acknowledged alongside the racial, ethnic, and other human traumas inflicted unethically and inappropriately in the name of science. These include eugenics; nuclear testing in Oceania; the Tuskegee experiments; the immortal cells of Henrietta Lacks; the Flint, Mich. water crisis and other toxic disasters; continued erasure of Indigenous knowledge and land rights; and the misrepresentation of LGBTQIA public health issues. These are among the countless examples of injustices increasingly brought to light and just beginning to be righted — because of writers versed in science and in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) principles.

Just as scientists and the research community are changing their practices and creating safeguards to atone for these past harms, so too are newsrooms and the media community reexamining hiring practices, editorial biases, and choices of quoted experts to ensure that voices within their community are not silenced. The reality is that a media publication that reflects the diversity and the richly varied experiences and perspectives of its readers will uncover more meaningful news stories that inform and even improve the lives of everyday people. For example, many science writers are now reporting research findings in ways that inform and resonate with the people and neighborhoods on the ground — the very people and communities that anti-diversity and anti-science actors claim to protect. NASW resoundingly rejects all campaigns to attack DEI initiatives, because they are merely veiled efforts to disenfranchise and deny the real richness and agency of peoples, cultures, and experiences of the world.

Dedications for the Decades Ahead

Freedom of the press, freedom of information, and access to accurate news are not just professional issues faced by journalists and writers alone — they are intrinsic rights in a free, democratic society. Calls for the advancement of media freedoms, of scientific literacy, and of diversity, equity, and inclusion are not political statements — they are human statements. Those who claim otherwise are either in denial themselves or actively seeking to damage society — and are controlling messages and peoples for their own gain. NASW condemns all actions that deny or obstruct public access to science news and scientific knowledge — because misinformation and disinformation undermine our future understanding of science, medicine, and public health. Indeed, a strong, transparent ecosystem of newsrooms and working science journalists are our best tools to fight back.

Science writers can meet society’s challenges and changes by staying together, learning together, and thriving together — and in the decades ahead, NASW will still be here, providing professional development opportunities and nurturing our compassion and camaraderie. And in our 90th year, we remind the world and declare once again the essential role that science writing and science writers play in our social fabric and in our collective advancement. That we stand together with our fellow journalists and writers around the United States and the globe. That we support the ethical pursuit of scientific knowledge for the benefit of all, not the few. That the acknowledgement of diversity actually unites us, rather than divides us. That among the most precious gifts we have as humanity is the desire to understand and to connect.

In the decades ahead, we look forward to continuing our fight for the free flow of science news — in service to all who seek to understand and to connect.


The 2022-24 NASW Board
Cassandra Willyard, President
Sandeep Ravindran, Vice President
Shraddha Chakradhar, Treasurer
Jyoti Madhusoodanan, Secretary
Marla Broadfoot, Board Member-At-Large
Kat Eschner, Board Member-At-Large
Ana Gorelova, Board Member-At-Large
Amanda Heidt, Board Member-At-Large
Jane C. Hu, Board Member-At-Large
Tyler Jones, Board Member-At-Large
Marilynn Marchione, Board Member-At-Large
Rodrigo Pérez Ortega, Board Member-At-Large
Ramin Skibba, Board Member-At-Large
Matt Shipman, Board Member-At-Large
Kelly Tyrrell, Board Member-At-Large

To reach the NASW Board, email president@nasw.org

Founded in 1934 with a mission to fight for the free flow of science news, NASW is an organization of ~2,800 professional journalists, authors, editors, producers, public information officers, students and people who write and produce material intended to inform the public about science, health, engineering, and technology. To learn more, visit www.nasw.org and follow NASW on LinkedIn.

February 21, 2024