NASW is the National Association of Science Writers. If you are a science writer of any stripe and are in the USA, you should consider applying for membership.

What is it about?

In 1934, a dozen pioneering science reporters established the National Association of Science Writers at a meeting in New York. They wanted a forum in which to join forces to improve their craft and encourage conditions that promote good science writing.

The association was formally incorporated in 1955 with a charter to "foster the dissemination of accurate information regarding science through all media normally devoted to informing the public."

Over the years, its officers have included both freelancers and employees of most of the major newspapers, wire services, magazines, and broadcast outlets in the country. Today, NASW has 2,215 members and 259 students.

Above all, NASW fights for the free flow of science news.

As the science writing ecosystem changed over the decades, the organization had to adapt. At its inception, most of the members were professional science reporters, writers and editors with full-time jobs in traditional media organizations.

As the media decline - especially print media - started decades ago (and that is decades before the invention of the Internet 1969, Web 1991, blogs 1997, Google 1998, Facebook 2004 and Twitter 2006), with subscriptions falling, readership diminishing, trust and respect going downhill, and thus profits declining, many of these media organizations went belly-up or had to tighten their belts...often firing their science reporters first.

The NASW members who found themselves unemployed often managed to remain in the business, but took a different tack. Some became successful freelance writers. Others took jobs as science communicators or Public Information Officers with various organizations, institutions, universities, scientific journal publishers, corporations, or governmental agencies. This change in the membership composition forced NASW to change over time.

As essentially all of scientific communication - from primary literature, through news reporting, to commentary and discussion - now happens online, and most of it is found ONLY online, NASW had to keep up with reality and change its membership criteria to include writers who do their work entirely on the Web, as professionals, semi-professionals or amateurs - including people like me who have never published anything on dead-tree paper and have a mindset that does not contain any motivation to do so. The advent of the Web has ensured that the long decline of science reporting was stopped and reversed. Because of the existence of the Web, there is more, and better, science coverage today than ever in the history of the Universe.

Why should you become a member?

You can find a gig or a job (or hire someone else). You can find important information and do your networking in the discussions on the mailing lists. The "welcome" package is very useful, with all sorts of materials that can help you write better and network better.

The Science Writers quarterly magazine is chock-full of important information, coupled with several interesting articles, and all of it beautifully packaged. If you go to the website, there is a lot of useful stuff linked on the right side-bar, some of it public and some of it accessible only to members.

The website has been undergoing redesign and improvements over the past year or so, with more to come (or so I hear), and the staff has recently also started using Facebook and Twitter for disseminating information (this gets more lively and personalized during the annual meeting - follow the hashtag #sciwri11 throughout the year).

But probably the most important advantage of membership is the attendance at the annual ScienceWriters meeting, organized together with CASW (Council for the Advancement of Science Writing). It used to be organized as a part of the AAAS meeting in February, but has, several years ago, moved to Fall, usually late October or early November.

I first went to the meeting last year, in New Haven, CT, and loved it. The first day is devoted to panels and hands-on workshops that are very useful for honing one's craft and for networking. There is also traditionally a session where young writers and freelancers can pitch their stories to the editors of major science magazines.

The remaining time - the 'New Horizons' series over 2-3 days - is filled with presentations by leaders in a variety of scientific fields, explaining the latest trends and discoveries. That is definitely good fodder for articles and blog posts immediatelly after the meeting ends.

This year, the meeting will be in Flagstaff, Arizona, and registration just opened a couple of days ago. If you are a new or young science writer, or thinking about becoming one - give it a thought, and register if you can go and think this is something for you. I'll be there (and will participate so say Hi if you see me). In 2012, the meeting will be held in my home territory, in the Triangle area of North Carolina, so keep the date penciled in on your calendars.


Previously in this series:

What is: Open Laboratory 2011

What is: Science Online London

What is: #NYCSciTweetUp

What is: Science Online New York City

What Is:

What is: The Story Collider