Two amendments proposed for fall meeting

This fall members will have the opportunity to vote on two proposed amendments to the NASW constitution, either in person at the October 13 meeting in Washington, DC or online via proxy. Thanks very much for taking the time to review these proposals, which you can read in full at and They may seem like simple, minor revisions to our organization’s governing documents, but the issues they address are complicated.

One proposed amendment would change the qualifications for someone to serve as an NASW officer, and the other would revise the number of signatures necessary to put forth a proposed amendment.

Below are answers to some of the questions members might have regarding these two proposed amendments. Please feel free to ask questions of Laura Helmuth (current president), any NASW board member (listed here), or any Governance Committee member (listed here). We encourage you to discuss these issues with other members and will be happy to participate in conversations on Twitter, Facebook, the NASW-Talk listserv, or in the comments sections of the NASW webpages (viewable only by members) here or where the individual proposals are posted. Laura will be available at our election social hour in DC on August 29 and feel free to email her at

Proposed Officer Qualifications Amendment
Q: Didn’t we vote recently on a proposal to change the officer qualifications?
A: Membership voted on a virtually identical proposal two years ago, and it did not pass.

Q: What are our officer requirements? A: Currently, our bylaws specify that: “A substantial majority of an officer's science-writing activities shall be journalism. 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.” Officers are the president, vice-president, treasurer and secretary; the board also has 11 members-at-large.

Q: What are the requirements for serving on the NASW board?
A: At-large positions on the NASW board (that is, 11 of the 15 board positions) are open to any regular member. [Current board members](]( and this year's candidates include PIOs, freelance writers, educators, staff journalists, and people who have multiple professional roles.

Q: What’s the difference between a board member and an officer? A: Board members and officers have most of the same responsibilities, and all have an equal vote on any issue that comes before the board. Together, among other things, we manage NASW’s finances, help plan events, vote on recommendations put forth by committees, establish standards for professional behavior, and try to make NASW a welcoming and useful organization for all science writers. All board members are expected to take on ambitious projects, such as chairing a committee, running an event, or serving as our liaison to the Authors Coalition (a group that distributes copyright royalties to NASW and other professional organizations). Officers make some decisions that do not require board votes, such as approving grants above a certain threshold that have been endorsed by the Peggy Girshman Ideas Grants Committee. Officers also take leadership roles in representing the organization externally, such as in signing public documents that take positions on the rights of science writers.

In addition, the officers have certain specific responsibilities: The secretary keeps the minutes of board meetings; the treasurer chairs the Finance Committee; the vice-president chairs the Programs Committee; the president represents the organization in the World Federation of Science Journalists.

Q: What happened last time the officer-qualifications amendment was proposed?
A: The board established an Ad Hoc Committee on Constitutional Review to evaluate the proposal. The committee did much more than that – it surveyed NASW membership, conducted in-depth interviews, and produced a rich and revealing analysis of the varied membership within NASW. Please read their report if you can – it has guided much of the NASW board’s work for the past two years. The committee concluded that the proposed amendment was “the wrong answer to the wrong question,” and it suggested other ways to strengthen and unify the organization.

Based on the report, the board in office at the time issued a consensus statement against the proposal, saying that it had the potential to damage the organization. The report found that 13 percent of NASW members who are journalists said they would leave the organization if the amendment passed.

Based on survey data and letters from members, the ad hoc committee concluded that altering criteria for electing officers “might significantly alter the composition of NASW’s membership.” In particular, the committee predicted a dropoff in membership or participation by staff journalists and editors, which would likely lead to a secondary dropoff in membership and participation among other NASW members.

Q: What has changed since the last time this amendment was proposed? A: The proposal and report inspired specific changes in NASW.

  • The board formed a new ad hoc committee, the Ad Hoc Committee for Membership Identity and Values (informally known as the Fix-It Committee). As reported in the Winter 2017-18 ScienceWriters, the Fix-It Committee (co-chaired by Jill Sakai and Siri Carpenter) made numerous recommendations for how to improve NASW for all members; the board voted in October 2017 to adopt these recommendations. The recommendations included taking steps to support and encourage more intensive efforts to strengthen paths to involvement and leadership within NASW for all members, with a particular focus on non-journalists; and taking steps to create more detailed guidance concerning conflict of interest, a process that is underway.
  • The board established a Governance Committee to evaluate how NASW is governed. Among other things, it has surveyed other organizations and experts on non-profit governance about best practices for governance; prioritized ideas from the Fix-It Committee; established a code of conduct for our meetings; and put forward the other proposed amendment to the NASW constitution. The Governance Committee is currently developing other proposals to improve membership representation on the board. The Governance Committee recruited members from all specializations within NASW, and it was created to give all members a new channel to suggest improvements to NASW’s governance.
  • We established a working group to examine conflict of interest issues and develop guidance that can help NASW members navigate complex decisions surrounding working for multiple types of clients.
  • We have supported several regional workshops and conferences with a focus on PIO issues.
  • We are hosting a summit on access to government agencies in February, with a goal of producing a set of standards by and for PIOs.
  • We instituted an Excellence in Institutional Writing Award to recognize high-caliber, publicly accessible science writing produced on behalf of an institution or other non-media organization. The first award will be given in October 2018.
  • We expanded the scope of the Diversity Fellowship to include supporting science writers with internships in public information offices and other non-journalistic workplaces.
  • We established a working group to encourage and support development of ScienceWriters workshop proposals by and for PIOs.
  • We added questions to our membership survey to better understand the range of members’ needs, interests, and professional roles and to better serve all members.

Proposed Signature Process Amendment
Q: Is the other proposed amendment – the one that would increase the number of signatures necessary to propose an amendment – meant as a rebuke to the people who signed the petition to amend the constitution to alter officer requirements?
A: Not at all. We are proud of the fact that our organization is one of a very small number that affords members a direct line to constitutional change. Changing the number of required signatures from an absolute number, derived when our membership was quite small, to a percentage does not remove the ability of NASW membership to participate, but rather insures that any proposed amendments are representative. These two amendments can, and should be, considered and voted on independently.

Q: Does the board support the proposed amendment to revise the number of signatures necessary to to propose an amendment?
A: Yes. The proposal was submitted by the Governance Committee in consultation with and endorsed by the board.

Q: If the proposal to revise the officer requirements again does not pass, are we stuck with the current rules? A: The board and Governance Committee are working toward updating and improving how the organization is run, including how we select officers. These are hard problems, and these volunteers are approaching their work with thoroughness and great care.

Thanks again for helping make these big decisions about NASW’s future. And thanks to all of you who make NASW a welcoming, respectful, and inspiring professional organization for all members.

- Laura Helmuth, NASW president
- Siri Carpenter, NASW vice-president
- Alex Witze, NASW treasurer
- Jill Adams, NASW secretary
- Nsikan Akpan, co-chair of the NASW Governance Committee
- Jill Sakai, co-chair of the Ad Hoc Committee for Membership Identity and Values (informally known as the Fix-It Committee)

August 22, 2018

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