PIO Committee supports opening the NASW officer positions to all regular members

The following is a letter from the PIO Committee to NASW members:

This fall, all regular members of the National Association of Science Writers will have the opportunity to vote* on an amendment to determine who is eligible to lead the organization into the future. The PIO Committee urges a “Yes” vote on this change to the NASW Bylaws because we believe it is a critical step to ensure NASW’s long-term health and sustainability.

All members may serve on the 11-person NASW Board, but there is a smaller pool of eligible candidates for officer positions – President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer. The NASW Constitution states: “a substantial majority of an officer's science-writing activities shall be journalism.” Further, it specifies that “officers may not write press releases or otherwise act on behalf of an institution or company to affect media coverage while they serve in office.” The Nominating Committee selects the candidates to fill officer roles and the Membership Committee confirms their eligibility. Although the officers are elected positions, there is typically only one person on the ballot for each officer slot.

Most of us are well aware that the landscape of traditional journalism is changing. More journalists, especially those who freelance, are turning to non-journalism sources of income. We are concerned that the 2,270-member organization’s highest leaders are becoming less and less representative of its members, since a majority are or may soon be ineligible to serve. In fact, the NASW Ad Hoc Committee on Constitutional Review assembled in 2016 surveyed members that same year and found that 50% of self-identified journalists report doing some form of institutional writing.

That finding means that a portion of NASW’s journalist members are eligible to lead the organization as officers under current NASW rules, and none of its PIO and other non-journalist members may fulfill these roles. This stands to hurt the NASW of the future, limits current members who may aspire to serve the organization, and suggests the majority of those who attend meetings and volunteer in myriad critical roles are not qualified to lead the very organization they support.

The Ad Hoc Committee also learned that opening leadership to all NASW members, as our counterparts in Canada and Australia have done, would be “extremely unlikely” to affect the funding NASW receives from the Authors Coalition and would be unlikely to jeopardize its relationships with journalistic organizations such as the World Federation of Science Journalists.

And though a nearly-identical Amendment to broaden the leadership of NASW narrowly missed passage by 38 votes in 2016, the Ad Hoc Committee found the majority of members who responded to the survey agreed or strongly agreed with making the change. More members believed it would have a positive influence on their participation in NASW.

As a committee, we represent the interests of PIOs within NASW. However, we know the value of the organization lies in its shared association between all science writers – journalists and non-journalists alike. We are united by our common interests, including protecting robust journalism, and to preserve our shared interests, we must preserve the future of NASW. We believe this means considering how we elect our leadership and who is eligible to lead. We urge members to consider what is right for NASW at this time and for the future of the organization.

Vote “Yes” on the Amendment to open opportunities for leadership to all of NASW’s members.

Signed, The PIO Committee of the National Association of Science Writers

*Members may vote either in person at the October 13 meeting in Washington, DC or online via proxy.

September 5, 2018

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