Response to “Some Questions re Eligibility for Office in the NASW”

1 07 2016

(This post is in response to NASW President Robin Marantz Henig’s answers [LINK] to the questions I raised in my postSome Questions re Eligibility for Office in the NASW” [LINK]

Robin, thanks for your answers, which did clarify things—but only a bit. There are major questions you did not address, which I believe are important in the debate over the proposed amendment that, if passed, would allow any member to hold office. It would be helpful to have at least an indication that the board and officers will be addressing those questions.

For one thing, your answer regarding writing news releases implies that writing even one release, not to mention occasional releases, would trigger the requirement that an officer step down. Is that true?

Also, I would join Rick Borchelt in asking you to address the conundrum whether an officer seeking media coverage for his/her book—which these days often requires an author to write news releases—would require the officer to step down.

Nor does your answer indicate that that there is any policy—or indeed any discussion at all—of how to interpret the vague requirement that “A substantial majority of an officer’s science-writing activities shall be journalism.” This is of significant interest to freelancers like me who engage in an eclectic, ever-changing mix of journalistic, quasi-journalistic, and news-release-writing projects to keep our heads above financial water.

Earle Holland’s point about the ambiguous nature of my communication workshops exemplifies the problem.

Your comment that “Luckily, you would have to turn down the more lucrative work of writing press releases only during the two years that you’re an officer…” reflects a very problematic reality for freelancers who contemplate seeking office.

For one thing, it means that many would have to give up a significant income while serving—in essence paying to serve as an officer. I’m sure that would discourage many freelancers from running for office.

What’s more, freelancers/officers would face the prospect that the offer of a lucrative news release assignment would force them to choose between compromising their financial well-being, or being embarrassed by having to step down.

Finally, regarding the journalism requirement for officers, I’d like to explore the issue of what constitutes “journalism” these days. The current rule was written in the last century and reflects an outmoded twentieth-century attitude regarding news releases.

Back then, the sole purpose of a news release was to affect media coverage, because that coverage was the only conduit to the public. Today, research news releases posted on services such as EurekAlert! and Newswise are available to the public online globally. In fact, they are posted right along with media stories on such news aggregators as Google News.  A recent search revealed more than 25,000 EurekAlert! and 6,000 Newswise releases on Google News.

This fact is one reason that there is a case to be made that research news releases are now, indeed, journalism.

Certainly, they don’t offer the independent assessment and perspective of a media story. However, many media research stories don’t either, merely describing the research finding.

And while there may be “flackery” in some research news releases, there also may be “hackery” in some media stories that misinterpret research.

In fact, research news releases may well be superior to news stories in their accuracy. They are usually more detailed, and arguably more accurate than media stories, because in reputable news offices, they are fact-checked by the scientists.

I hope these comments help us clarify these thorny issues of eligibility for office, and I look forward to your response.

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