NASW Update, Nov. 24, 2010

Planning NASW’s future

From Nancy Shute, NASW president: The NASW board devoted all of Friday, Nov. 5, to a facilitated strategic planning session. This is NASW’s first major effort to plan how NASW can best serve its members, and all science writers, in a time of great turbulence in our field. By the end of the day, we had identified 10 action items for the next year. Some, like quarterly conference calls for the board, are aimed at making our efforts more efficient and effective – critical for a volunteer-run organization with just one full-time employee. Others, like a plan to expand NASW’s web and social media presence, and the creation of a new program committee chaired by Robin Lloyd, are focused on delivering more services to science writers. We’ll explain the plan in detail in the next issue of ScienceWriters.

New Authors Coalition funds

NASW has just received a $263,000 one-time payment from the Authors Coalition, and we need your help spending it. The Authors Coalition collects reprographic rights money from overseas and distributes it to organizations like us. The surveys that you are filling out right now as part of renewals determine what share NASW receives annually, and this money is used for funding programs like travel fellowships, career grants, and underwriting a portion of the annual workshops to keep registration fees low. A one-time payment this large is rare and calls for some big thinking. To that end, keep your eyes peeled in the next few weeks for a radical new grant program and a dedicated forum for soliciting member ideas.

Making ScienceOnline11 accessible

ScienceOnline, the annual conference organized by Bora Zivkovic and Anton Zuiker, brings together the many disparate parts of the science blogging community for a weekend of intense discussion on the future of science writing online. Anyone who’s been knows that it’s a fabulous meetup, but it’s also very small, with just 300 slots. Slots at SciO11, which will be held January 14-16, 2011, in Research Triangle Park, NC, were snapped up in just 45 minutes. To ensure that our members who cannot attend but are interested in the content will be able to partake, NASW will be sponsoring remote multimedia access to the conference. Stay tuned for details on how to connect!

From ScienceWriters editor Lynne Friedmann:

Pam Gorder, (author of the Our Gang column in ScienceWriters) informs me that in discussions in New Haven with a couple of freelancers, she learned that they are under the impression that freelance writers weren’t eligible to submit their news to the Our Gang column. Yet another person voiced the same concern regarding news about PIOs.

Pam and I would like to send a message to the membership declaring loudly that everyone is welcome in the column: Staff writer, PIO, freelancer, teacher, student, Gryffendor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff. (I acknowledge Pam for the colorful language.) Send your reports to Pam at

From board member Jeff Grabmeier for the Education Committee:

The deadline is fast approaching for undergraduate students to apply for NASW travel fellowships to the upcoming AAAS meeting! As many as 10 students will receive up to $750 in travel expenses to attend AAAS in Washington, D.C., Feb. 17-21, 2011. NASW’s education committee will select students to receive the fellowship and will pair each one with a veteran writer for a one-day mentoring program. The deadline to apply is December 1. For more information and the application form, please visit:

Membership renewal season is here

If you haven’t renewed already, please go to, login with your user name and password, then follow the "Renew your membership" link. This is your chance to fill out the all-important Authors Coalition survey as well.

NASW joins journalism organizations in fighting censorship by “Mandated Clearance”

On Nov. 24, the NASW board signed on to a resolution opposing prohibitions on government employees that prevent them from talking directly with journalists without first getting clearance or monitoring their communication. Since a key part of NASW’s mission is to defend the free flow of information, we considered it vital to support this mission, which was led by the Society of Professional Journalists. However, the NASW board wanted to make it clear that endorsing the resolution in no way suggests that public affairs officers oppose free and open access, and that the petition was directed at administration policies.

Text of resolution:

Demanding an end to censorship caused by ‘Mandated Clearance’

Whereas, it has become increasing common for public agencies at all levels of government to prohibit their employees from communicating with journalists unless agency public relations officials are notified and/or those officials grant clearance or permission for employees to speak, and

Whereas, surveillance of government employees who communicate to journalists inevitably chills and limits what many employees are willing to tell journalists, even when critical information that should be public is at stake, and

Whereas, these prohibitions are a form of government censorship through: restriction of the availability of interviews; requiring government monitoring of interviews; limiting what may be asked or said during interviews; imposing a lengthy clearance process through multiple layers of government; and enabling surveillance by government officials of what scientists and other sources say to journalists, and

Whereas, public agencies do not generally place such restrictions on communications with other persons, including lobbyists and other representatives of special interests, and

Whereas, such limits on journalists impede vigorous, frequent communication with agencies and impede learning about their culture and internal workings, and

Whereas, this hinders the practice of quality journalism and these restrictions hide and foster malfeasance and incompetence in the agencies, and

Whereas, President Barack Obama has declared, “My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government,”

Therefore, be it resolved that the Society of Professional Journalists, in convention assembled in Las Vegas, Nev., for its 101st celebration of journalism that SPJ urges President Obama to declare that all such restrictions in the federal executive branch are to be ended and to establish a mechanism by which any continuing restrictions can be reported to the highest level of his administration and subsequently eliminated; and

Be it further resolved that SPJ calls on President Obama to create a model for agencies on all levels of government by declaring that, except in cases where information is legally secret or confidential, federal staff members have the right and the responsibility to discuss the workings of the public’s business with journalists, honestly and openly, without delay, restrictions, surveillance or mandated notification of third parties, before or after the communication, and

Be it further resolved that when journalists independently decide to contact public relations offices, agencies have the responsibility: to the public to respond promptly; to never forbid that conversations take place or monitor conversations; to never place constraints on who the reporter will speak to or what may be said; and to never clear conversations with third parties in the agency, unless there are specific legal reasons for doing so, and

Be it further resolved that state and local governmental agencies to lift similar restrictions, and

Be it further resolved that news media everywhere should, whenever possible, reveal in their reporting when these types of restrictions are placed on their newsgathering and that they expose practices that restrict the free flow of information and threaten the public welfare.
November 24, 2010

BWF Climate Change and Human Health Seed Grants

Eric and Wendy Schmidt Awards for Excellence in Science Communications

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