NASW Update, March 2, 2009

Transparency is the buzzword. This is the execution -- or at least the beginning of it. The board plans to send member updates about once a month, news permitting, to keep you apprised of our activities on your behalf.

From the new look for ScienceWriters to an eye-popping win for the Grievance Committee, news in this installment is a telling reflection of the value of NASW. Please read on and, as always, your feedback and suggestions are welcome.

-- Ron Winslow, secretary



Welcome to all newly elected NASW executive board members and our much appreciated returning veterans. We're looking forward to working with the NASW staff and key personnel on addressing members' needs during our collective tenure. Get to know us all here:


NASW runs on volunteer energy and is always looking for helping hands. Curious? Here is the current list of committees and liaisons:


We hope you've had a chance to page through the newly redesigned ScienceWriters magazine. Authors Coalition monies funded the modest cost of the redesign, which provides a professional new look for the content without significantly increasing ongoing publishing costs. Hats off again to Editor Lynne Friedmann, Designer Carol Kerr, Executive Director Tinsley Davis, and all the contributors for their terrific work. Selected articles appear on the homepage; full issues are archived here: (membership login required).


NASW President Mariette DiChristina joined CASW President Cristine Russell, Society of Environmental Journalists President Christy George, and World Federation of Science Journalists President Pallab Ghosh in sending a joint letter of protest to CNN Worldwide about the closure of its science, technology, and reporting unit:


NASW has protested H.R. 801, the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act, which would repeal open access to NIH-funded science. See: NASW members may want to write to their own local Congressional representatives. Additional information is here: and here:


Your NASW membership dollars provide a number of benefits: Despite rising costs, the organization has not raised its annual fee of $75 since 2002.

-- Mariette DeChristina


The NASW grievance committee has been batting close to a thousand since we began operations in early 2006. In February, we managed to get a member a payment of $4,250 that she had been owed for EIGHTEEN MONTHS, which we think might be a record in late payments. She'd gone back and forth with the scientist for whom she had done a writing project (and gotten paid the first half or so of the money originally contracted for), and when the scientist moved to a new university, he kept telling her that he was trying to get her paid by his new institution but wasn't having any luck. The Grievance Committee sent him an email saying that we would publicize his failure to pay via Words Worth, and he replied quite huffily that he didn't respond well to threats. Yet he responded quite well indeed: the member was paid in full two weeks after the email was sent.

In late 2008, a member was offered a kill fee of 50% of the $5,200 she was owed for an article for a specialty health publication, even though upon submission of the piece her editor had indicated that it would need just minor rewrites. The member was never given the chance to do the rewrites before she was offered the kill fee. One Grievance Committee member called the editor in chief to listen to the publisher's side of the story, and convinced her that the member was owed the full amount -- which arrived within two weeks.

We plan to write a longer article for the next issue of ScienceWriters summarizing some of our other victories over the past three years. Until then, we want NASW members to know that the Grievance Committee is out here and eager to serve. But know that there are some cases we can't take. If you don't have a contract, letter of agreement, or at least an electronic email trail documenting your agreement with your client, we can't do much to help you. If you don't have a paper trail or an email trail of exchanges with your editors, our job is also a lot harder. And if you've signed a contract agreeing to a provision that comes back later to bite you, we may not be able to help you. For example, recently a member asked for our help after having signed a "pay on publication" contract. We couldn't do anything for this member, because the publication had gone out of business and never published her article, so in this case "pay on publication" meant "pay never."

All communications with the Grievance Committee are confidential. If you have a grievance with a publisher, don't hesitate to drop us a line.

Our ultimate goal is to prevent grievances before they happen. In collaboration with the Freelance Committee, the Grievance Committee is now trying to put together a survey to see what kind of problems our members have encountered. Look for an upcoming NASW-announce posting with survey questions, and please respond. We're all in this together.

-- Dan Ferber, chair,; Robin Marantz Henig,; Ellen Ruppel Shell,


The Education Committee ran several programs at the AAAS meeting in Chicago. For the first time, NASW gave travel fellowships to ten undergraduates to attend the meeting. In exchange, the students covered sessions for NASW's web site. We paired each student with a mentor, edited their news stories (with help from volunteer editors), and posted them here:

The students embraced the opportunity. One wrote: "Few students have this spectacular experience as an undergraduate. . . having the ability to not only see the AAAS events, but truly step into the role of reporter, was a fantastic experience I will not soon forget."

For our annual mentoring program, we paired 31 graduate students and undergraduates with mentors from all walks of the profession, matching their interests as closely as possible. David Perlman kindly agreed to speak at our orientation. Each pair then spent time at the meeting talking privately, attending sessions, or even filing stories or editing multimedia reports.

We also sponsored the NASW internship fair, attended by 45 students. Freelancer Jenny Cutraro once again organized the fair, and volunteer Melissa Blouin helped run it. Fifteen recruiters participated, including major national mags and online news sites, several federal labs, and a private company. Students signed up for several short chats with editors; we expect many of these connections will lead to internships. "I was surprised by how many big names in the science-writing world attended," one student wrote. "The NASW really did a great job in pulling it all together."

-- Jeff Grabmeier and Rob Irion, co-chairs


Time to perk up your website...or put down your blog?

You spent hours setting up your website, perfecting the design and uploading your clips. You toil weekly or even daily to add content to your blog. But is it all for naught? Is anyone paying attention? Does it do your business any good?

Freelance writer Nancy Allison today launches a regular feature for All About Freelancing that will explore these questions and highlight freelancer websites and blogs sites that rock.

-- Catherine Dold, editor, NASW freelance pages

March 2, 2009