Some Questions re Eligibility for Office in the NASW

18 06 2016

(I’m posting this letter to the NASW board members and officers, so that my fellow freelancers may have the benefit of their answers.)

Dear NASW board members and officers,

I’m writing to ask for clarification of the current rule governing elected officers, as stated in the NASW Constitution and Bylaws. The relevant passage is Article IV, Section 1:

“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 who engage in such activities shall notify the Board immediately. They may remain on the Board, but the Board shall appoint another fully qualified member to carry out the officer duties.”

My reason for writing is that, after decades of membership in the NASW, I’d like to consider running for office, and I’d like to explore my eligibility.

As a PIO for four decades, I wasn’t eligible to serve as an officer. During that time, I did freelance for such publications as Discover, Popular Science, Air & Space, Science Digest, and newspapers and in-flight magazines. I also consulted on science museum exhibit design.

Ten years ago I left my last PIO job, and I now freelance and consult on research communication. So, I need to understand whether my mix of writing and consulting satisfies the requirement that a “substantial majority” of my science-writing activities be journalism.

I currently write nonfiction books and novels, occasional news releases, and teach communication workshops for scientists. My last commercial nonfiction book was Explaining Research (Oxford 2010). However, in 2013, I co-authored Danny’s Dream, a privately published history of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Of course, I also write the blog Research Explainer, on which this letter is posted.

Does the “substantial majority” rule pertain strictly to word count, or would a nonfiction book be considered as the equivalent of one media article? I suspect not, and if the appropriate measure is word count—given that Explaining Research is 100,000 words—how many words’ worth of news releases may I write and still maintain a substantial majority? Also, is there a “statute of limitations,” such that a book published a given number of years ago could not be considered in the substantial majority measure?

Would Danny’s Dream count as a published book, given that it was privately produced for an internal audience? If so, since I co-authored the book, and if word count is the criterion, would I count half the words toward my substantial majority?

I am currently writing a nonfiction book on the social impacts of global warming. Given that books take years of writing, could I count the words as I write them toward the substantial journalistic majority?

Do science fiction novels count as science journalism? I write so-called “science thrillers,” which are adventure stories that extrapolate from real science, as opposed to, for example, Vampires vs Zombies. Would a nominating committee want to review the novels, to judge their scientific content?

Does the rule that “Officers may not write press releases” (emphasis added) mean that, if I were elected an officer, I could write a single release and still remain in office? Or, perhaps a limited number? For example, St. Jude asks me to write a couple of releases every six months or so, as a backup for their science writer. How many of those releases over what period may I write before I would have to relinquish my officer duties? Might I be allowed two per year, for example?

I’d hate to forgo the income from those releases. As I’m sure you well appreciate, freelancing is a financially precarious business. Also, I’d hate to risk losing St. Jude as a client. If I’m elected, perhaps my St. Jude editor would understand and keep me on their list of contributors if the Board could provide a statement to the effect that my officer’s duties preclude writing news releases.

Also, I currently write occasional summaries of research for the web site of MIT’s Sloan School of Management Initiative for Health Systems Innovation. Since those summaries are not meant to “affect media coverage,” would they be considered news releases? If not, could they count toward my substantial majority?

Finally, word-counting wouldn’t apply for my communication workshops. If, indeed, those workshops do qualify as journalism, I’d appreciate guidance on how they would count toward my substantial majority. The workshops typically last from a few hours to days, but they may take weeks of preparation and practice.

I’m aware, of course, that there is under consideration a proposed amendment to the constitution and bylaws that would render these questions moot. However, given that the Board has expressed its position that the current rule should remain in place, I’m assuming that the above questions will remain relevant.

Thanks so much for considering these issues, and I look forward to your response.


Dennis Meredith



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