Some NASW members attempt to draw firm lines

On, WIRED columnist Mary McKenna and 86 other members of the US National Association of Science Writers (NASW) have published an open letter opposing a (repeated) proposal to make any member of the association eligible for its leading positions.

“An organization that professes journalism principles should be led by journalists,” a subhead says.

The bylaws amendment that would end priority treatment for ‘journalists’ was reintroduced earlier in 2018 after having been voted down in 2016.

Independent, accountable and transparant

In countering the amendment, the signatories to the open letter try to draw firm lines between science journalists and others. For that, they rely in part on the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists, calling the principles by which journalists have to live their professional lives ‘specific and unforgiving’: “Seek the truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, and be accountable and transparent.”

For journalists, they write, “[their] chief responsibility is to owe no obligation to any entity or person who has gathered or provided any of the information we report.

The principles by which communications professionals do their work are inevitably different. Whether they are public information officers making statements, media affairs officers handling press inquiries, or university science writers composing narratives for magazines and websites, their chief responsibility is to represent their agency or institution in a positive and comprehensive way.

“[..] our ethics are different. It is a blurring of lines to insist they are the same. [..] Perception is important. Independence is vital. With journalism itself under assault by multiple branches of government, this is more true than it has been in many of our lifetimes.”

‘Not making judgments’

The letter does acknowledge that in the real world lines have become much more blurred.

“Are all these rules always clear? No. Edge cases abound. The economic realities of 21st century journalism force many reporters, especially freelancers, to choose between doing only journalism and taking on advocacy and marketing work. We are not making judgments about how people earn their incomes; but we do assert that even freelancers who do journalism part-time continue to live by journalistic principles.

Link: the open letter in full

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