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Apply for funding to attend World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul

The Korean Association of Science Journalists and the conference sponsors are allocating $240,000USD to bring journalists to Seoul (WCSJ 8-12 June, Seoul, Korea 2015). The travel scholarship fund will be used to bring:
30 science journalists from developing countries,
10 science journalism students from anywhere,
and 10 working science journalists from developed countries where media organizations would not cover travel.
Applicants will have to show how they will benefit from attending the conference, how it will strengthen science journalism in their country, where they will report their stories gleaned from the conference and this time, we are also asking for some indication that they are members of a WFSJ association, if applicable, and how they see their role in the association. Some of the journalists who get to Seoul may be asked to be part of a panel on their country’s association.
Deadline for applications is March 31, 2015 and the result will be announced on April 13, 2015. Those wish to apply should download the application form from the official homepage of WCSJ 2015 ( and submit them in accordance with the guidelines.

AGM Agenda 2015


Date and time: Thu 26 March 2015, 19:00 onwards
Venue: AG01 College Building, City University, St Johns Street, EC1V 4PB  
Invited: All ABSW members
Drinks and canapés will be available during the AGM
NB: Only full and life members and the Honorary President may vote. Quorum for the meeting is 10 voting members
1 Apologies for Absence
2 Minutes of the Last ABSW AGM held on 27 March 2014
3 Matters Arising
4 President’s Report - Martin Ince
5 Treasurer’s Report - Victoria Parsons (Deputy Treasurer)
6 Auditors’ Report - Pete Wrobel/Michael Kenward
7 Proposed Amendment to the ABSW Standing Orders - Martin Ince/Pete Wrobel/Michael Kenward
At the request of the ABSW appointed auditors the AGM 2014 suggested that a change to the standing orders should be made to clarify the role of the ABSW auditors.   The suggested wording, agreed with the auditors, to add to the standing orders is as follows (NB: changes to the standing orders must be approved by the AGM):
Role of the Auditors
The auditors elected at the AGM are ABSW members, not audit professionals. Their role is to act on behalf of the members and to reassure them of the governance, management and financial base of the ABSW. In particular, they should 
(a) assure the members that the accounts that the Treasurer presents at the AGM are a fair record of the Association’s finances;
(b) ensure that the procedures followed and strategies put in place by the Executive Board are appropriate to protect the Association and its finances; and
(c) report on these issues to the AGM.
Action Required:
The AGM is asked to consider approving this change to the standing orders. 
8 Election of Executive Board - Martin Ince
All posts on the Executive Board are elected annually at the AGM. This is the second year in which the Board has run its election process on line. In accordance with the Standing Orders nominations opened on 26 January 2015 and closed on 23 February 2015.  The following individuals stood for election:
Martin Ince – President
Mico Tatalovic – Vice President
Connie St Louis – European Representative
Victoria Parsons – Treasurer
Beki Hill/Wendy Grossman/Katharine Sanderson/Joshua Howgego – general post on the Board (7 maximum available)
There are therefore no contested posts and no candidates for Secretary.  There is no specific guidance in the Standing Orders on procedure where posts are not contested or no nominations received.   The Executive Board agreed the following procedure and this was approved by the appointed election tellers (Andy Coughlan/John Bonner)
Action Taken/Required:
Details of the nominations were placed on the ABSW website earlier this month and the AGM is now asked to ratify these individuals to comprise the new Executive Board.  At the first meeting of the new Executive Board after this AGM the Board will consider co-opting individuals to cover vacant posts 
The ABSW would like to express its thanks to Harriet Bailey (Treasurer) who has now left the Executive Board.
9 Appointment of Auditors - Martin Ince
Action Required:
The AGM are asked to approve the appointment of Pete Wrobel and Michael Kenward as the auditors for the financial year 2015. 
(NB: Auditors for 2014 were Pete Wrobel and Michael Kenward)    
10 Appointment of Life Members - Martin Ince
The ABSW Board has no nominations for Life Members in 2015
11 Date of Next AGM - March 2016
12 Any Other Business


After the ABSW - Creators' Rights Alliance Survey

At the end of 2014 the ABSW conducted a survey amongst its membership, looking at their experience of  contracts for writing and other creative work. This was part of a drive by the Creators’ Rights Alliance, of which the ABSW is a member, to secure parliamentary support for fairer contract practices.
Mike Harrison reports the outcome of the survey.


After the ABSW-CRA survey

What to make of the returns from our recent anonymous survey of contract experiences?
Of an ABSW membership exceeding 400 only 32 responded. Given that the questions allowed for quick tick-box responses amounting to ‘quite happy thanks’ the only safe conclusion is that there’s nothing statistically significant to be mined from so poor a turnout.
However, the survey asked for some narrative evidence and that did provide a partially coherent picture. Respondents told a variety of woeful tales, ranging from being strong-armed in negotiations, steady deterioration in contractual relationships and fees, and demands for expensive and sometimes impossible guarantees of the probity of their work.
A number of freelance writers complained of practices amounting to restraint of trade, with attempts to bind them to a particular publisher or agent. One said, “Agencies have asked me to sign contracts that forbid me to solicit or accept work of any kind from any of their clients, past or present. In one case this restriction was to last for two years after my work for them – a single article!”
A staff writer complains, “My contract states that I am not allowed to work for any competitor for six months after terminating my employment with my current company. As a science journalist, that's impossible.”
Then there’s the frequent gripe about indemnity clauses. In the past it was safe to assume that responsible publishers carried adequate legal insurance and would be willing to back a writer in any dispute. But modern contracts frequently require that the writer guarantees the accuracy of their copy and agrees to indemnify the publisher against all costs associated with litigation.
In most cases, the publisher also retains the right to decide how an action is handled and, given that it is at someone else’s expense, there’s a risk that they’ll extend the fight – and legal costs – to preserve their own image before the possibility of a quick apology and settlement out of court. A sustained action for defamation could seriously damage a writer’s finances so insurance is essential. And, remember, the softening of UK defamation law achieved by Simon Singh’s lobbying still doesn’t extend to Northern Ireland.
The NUJ’s Freelance branch’s own indemnity insurance scheme offers one of the more affordable solutions for writers put at risk by such clauses, though NUJ Freelance Organiser John Toner reports (at the time of writing) that so far there have been no claims against it.
That appears to confirm the rarity of defamation actions against publishers, further suggesting a thoroughly mean-spirited mindset amongst commissioning bodies. Adding defamation cover to their mandatory, and already comprehensive, public liability insurance would be a cheap addition, assuming they don’t already have it.
However, lest anyone takes that as a case for not bothering with insurance, John Toner also points out that the free legal advice that goes with the NUJ policy is well-used, suggesting freelances’ decreasing trust in their clients.
The indemnity demands being made on writers are not illegal but they don’t foster a very congenial working relationship and lead to strongly partisan ‘them and us’ negotiations. A few writers simply refuse to sign them, as did two of the survey respondents, sometimes losing jobs as a result.
There was evidence in the survey results of an occasional split of attitude between editorial and legal staff within big publishing organisations. Editors seem to show more sympathy for the plight faced by jobbing writers faced with corporate lawyers’ boiler-plate contracts.
One ex-news editor for a science magazine reported he was routinely required to ask freelancers to sign a contract which included a clause on indemnity. “A few freelancers (rightly) pushed back, and I willingly deleted the clause from their contract, but most simply accepted it. Now, as a freelancer, I often face similar clauses in the contracts I receive. I always ask for them to be removed, but on two occasions when the editor has refused (both with US publications) I have had to accept the situation, otherwise I would have lost them as clients.”
The dichotomy in corporate thinking is underscored by a writer and editor who reported contract negotiations which were initiated after most of the work had been done – an increasingly common complaint. “I was frankly gobsmacked by the doublethink involved – I was asked to trust the publisher completely not to exploit the indemnity clause, while at the same time they argued that, without it, I would have no ‘incentive’ to do a proper professional job!”
Right at the top of the writers’ gripe chart, mentioned in most of the narrative comments, is the near-universal demand for ‘all rights’ in copyright material. The practice denies a writer participation in any residual revenue stream and a refusal to sign over all rights without additional payment usually leads to no contract and no job.
However, for all the sense of a thoroughly debased marketplace for freelances, there were some glimmers of optimism in the returns. One respondent said: “In general I've been lucky in having reasonable employers – who take the attitude that they own the copyright to the published version of my work, but if I change the wording of the piece, it's a 'different' article, so I am free to use it as I like. As a result, I am often able to reuse and re-write material originally prepared for one publication for other purposes – and both sides are happy with this arrangement.”
But looking at the overall experience of freelancing today, another respondent summed up a very despondent feeling: “The system seems to try to destroy writers rather than try to help them get established. There are few entry jobs, so the least experienced are forced into pitching for freelance jobs, which are often offered at a low cost, full rights given basis. Too often even 'respected' publishers lie, cheat and abuse freelancers with unfair contract terms, verbal assurances and promises which never materialise.”
Freelances in other media are reporting similar bad experiences and an overwhelming sense that they’re being denied a proper share in the prosperity of the UK’s booming publishing markets. If ever there were a case for a code of conduct for freelance creative contracts, the survey seems to confirm it.
Increasingly, freelancing is the only stepping-stone into the media creativity markets. So my personal fear is that without some improvement in commissioning relationships, fewer and fewer talented folk will risk a life of struggling against what feel like unfair odds.
The formation of a new generation of creators will dwindle and the publishers who have profited from earlier resources will realise they’ve shot the golden goose. A lose-lose-lose situation if you even begin to consider the public who depend on the stuff for news, information, entertainment and the bed-rock of a national culture.
A snapshot of the survey results
• Thirty-two of the ABSW’s 400+ members responded
• The majority of respondents work self-employed as freelances or self-publishers. A majority are in a creative, rather than a managerial or research role. There’s a sprinkling of PhD students with sidelines in freelance writing.
• Roughly half said they had had some experience of bad contract practices, and for most it had happened more than once. Their experiences spread over a number of years. A few had successfully negotiated the deletion of what they saw as an unfair contract clause.
• Only eight respondents said they owned copyright in their most recent work. Worryingly, six said they don’t know who owns it.
• Similarly thirteen said they had given a licence to all rights on their latest work, only six limiting them, and nine opting for ‘don’t know’.
• Narrative comments make several references to agencies acting as middle-man suppliers to publishers while applying heavily restrictive terms to freelances to prevent direct access to clients.
Mike Harrison

Martin's Update: January 2015

Martin’s Update

January 2015

Here is my regular update on the issues discussed at our latest ABSW Board meeting:

Membership of the ABSW

It’s that time of year again when we ask you to renew your membership.   Many thanks to those of you who have already renewed. At the end of January we will update our records and send confirmation of membership to you all, and a friendly reminder to those who have yet to pay.

Membership of the ABSW is the sign that you are a serious member of this profession, and lets you connect to other science journalists, writers and communications professionals  as well as to events and to training and work opportunities.  Nearly 100 new members joined last year. I do hope you will renew your membership, and take an active part in your association this year. 

ABSW Board Elections

One way to become more involved is to consider standing for the ABSW Board.   Nominations are now open until 23 February for Board membership and for our various officer posts.   I have already thrown my hat in the ring to stand for a further term as President.   Full details of the posts available, the responsibilities and likely workload are all on the website along with links to the nomination form.   So do please consider joining the Board in 2015. You don’t have to be in London for the meetings. We have finally managed to get Skype and other technology for remote participation.

Sexism in Science Journalism

Last year the ABSW commissioned research into the issue of sexism in science journalism.   The subject was also discussed in the opening plenary session of last year’s UK Conference of Science Journalists.   Video, audio and reviews of this session are all available in our UKCSJ archive,  The Board is eagerly awaiting the final report from this research in order to assess what actions might be usefully taken by the ABSW, in conjunction with bodies such as the NUJ, to tackle sexism in science journalism.

Investigative Science Journalism

The Board developed and promoted an Investigative Science Journalism Fellowship scheme last year, and put aside funds to pay for it. So we were disappointed to find that no applications were received.   Connie St Louis has been exploring why, and will soon be publishing an article on the issue that will let us promote the more scheme widely.  For further details and to apply, please visit the website:

ABSW Summer School

The ABSW is planning a summer school on Thursday 25 June at the Royal Society to provide skills training and networking opportunities for people starting out in the business.   Summer school is intended to fill the gap between our biennial UK Conference of Science Journalists with a skills-based and practical event in the intervening year.  It is at the planning stages and if you have any thoughts on useful content for it, do please contact Sallie Robins who is drawing up the programme in consultation with the Board.  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Press Cards for ABSW members

The ABSW is finally making progress towards issuing members with press credentials via one of a number of official issuers.   Many of you already have such credentials gained through your employer or the NUJ, but other members have told us that an ABSW card would be extremely valuable to them.  I am working with Board member Wendy Grossman and the UK Press Card Authority to determine costs and processes for ABSW members to receive this benefit, and will keep you updated on progress.

Key Dates:

Saturday 31 January – membership fees for 2015 should have been paid

Wednesday 11 February – ABSW Science Writers’ Awards for Britain and Ireland open for entry

Monday 23 February - nominations for ABSW Board close

Friday 27 February – nominations close for British candidate for European Science Writer of the Year

Week beginning 2 March 2015 – online voting for contested Board posts commences

Wednesday 18 March - ABSW Science Writers’ Awards for Britain and Ireland close for entry

Thursday 26 March – AGM venue tbc (London)

For more on all these, visit our website And while there, don’t forget to transplant the ABSW button to your own corner of cyberspace. Even with my html skills, it only took a moment, and it looks great.


Best wishes,

Martin Ince

President of the ABSW




UKCSJ Dragon's Den winner wins Wellcome Trust's Science Writing Prize

The ABSW has discovered that last month, Kate Széll was judged the winner of the Wellcome Trust’s science writing prize in category B for “anyone with a non-professional interest, including undergraduates”. 
In June this year Kate successfully pitched a story idea at the UK Conference of Science Journalists Dragon’s Den session.   Kate went on to have her idea commissioned and published by Research Fortnight.  
Read Kate’s Wellcome Trust article
Read Kate’s article for Research Fortnight (p21)
Congratulations to Kate - obviously a name to watch!

The 'missed the deadline' ABSW Xmas Party

The Traditional 'Missed the Deadline' ABSW Xmas Party is set for Thursday 15 January 2015:
Thursday 15 January 2015
18:30 onwards
The Somers Town Coffee House (don't worry it is a pub)
Food/drinks/gossip ..sorry I think it's called networking these days 
An invite has been sent to all members.   If you can make it do RSVP.

Pallab Ghosh wins Science and Technology Journalist of the Year

From today's Press Gazette, news that Pallab (ABSW member and former President of the Association) was awarded Science and Technology Journalist of the Year last night:
Science and Technology Journalist of the Year (sponsored by Astellas) – Pallab Ghosh, BBC
The BBC’s Pallab Ghosh won the science and technology award for his reports exposing the failure of the Government’s badger culling programme.
The judges said: “This was one of those stories where if it wasn’t for people like Pallab the Governnent would have got away with doing what it wanted and ignoring the advice of its own scientists.
“There had been previous work where scientists had expressed concerns about the badger culls, lots of journalists were following this up. But Pallab was the only one to get hold of Defra’s own unpublished report showing that the culls were ineffective and inhumane.”
Read the full story in the Press Gazette

In Conversation with Mark Walport - ABSW and Science Museum Lates Event Report

David and Goliath

By Mike Harrison

© Mike Harrison


I represent the ABSW on the national committee of the Creators’ Rights Alliance. We’re conducting a piece of anonymous research to determine the extent of unfair contract practices experienced by creators – writers, photographers, videographers, designers, composers, and so on. 
The CRA has lobbied the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Intellectual Property, Lord Younger. He has agreed to consider our case for possible changes in the law or the introduction of a model code of practice for commissioning creative material if we can demonstrate sufficient malpractice to warrant it.
To gather evidence we developed a short questionnaire for ABSW members. The data collection is now complete so many thanks to those of you that took the time to complete the survey. 
There is already evidence of the need for change where self-employed creators are concerned but staff and other creators subject to contracts of employment also say they’re less than happy about the way their work is handled. Occasionally editorial and managerial staff will say that they’re embarrassed by conditions they have to impose on freelances.
The idea of the survey is to gain some statistical understanding of the extent of the problem in the fields of operation of ABSW members. Other CRA member bodies are doing the same.


As a writer or any other kind of creator for publication you can take pride in being at the heart of one of Britain’s economic successes. Publishing in all media is booming here and your inventiveness, imagination, research skill, interviewing ability or whatever is the very feedstock of what the Government likes to call “The Creative Economy”. Without a steady input of creative originality publishing in all media would dry up and die.
You’d think that economically aware ministers and responsible publishers would want to foster that talent but the consensus amongst the numerous representative bodies forming the Creators’ Rights Alliance is that, for many creators, working conditions are drifting towards sweat-shop level. 
Most affected by this shift are the self-employed freelances who make up a growing proportion of the creative workforce. Every commission they undertake is a separate business deal and subject to negotiation. Concept, content, delivery arrangements and payment, and licence terms all have to be agreed.
In that respect the freelance creator is in exactly the same boat as any small business proprietor providing a service except that in our case digital distribution is virtually uncontrollable without complete trust between creator and publisher allied with sound laws.
Just as with a builder, tailor, or garden designer the media creator hopes that a job done well will encourage repeat business and the negotiating clout to ask for bigger fees. It’s an inherently healthy economic model. Success breeds success, the untalented go to the wall, the quality of the product evolves upwards.


Everyone a winner? Well, up to a point. But there is evidence of serious asymmetry in deal-making between the Davids – the one-man-band freelances and contractors – and the Goliath corporations they feed. It’s very tough to challenge an editor who’s in a hurry, with dozens of slots to fill every month and determined to beat you down in price. The hope that you may get a bite at a bigger cake if you take the pain and play along with the demands tends to sap courage.
There are also unreasonable demands for “indemnity” in which the freelance is required to take sole responsibility for the accuracy and legality of the material, not just as supplied but as published.
Isn’t that their job? In that Kafka-esque thinking a meddling editor could land you with a bankruptcy risk. The cost of insuring the risk might be many times the fee received.
Downright unfair contract practices are becoming common amongst commissioning bodies. The worst of these involve retrospective imposition of conditions. The creator may have confirmed verbally or in writing exactly what they thought they’d been asked to do – thus creating a contract in law – but it is not uncommon to find that previously unseen “terms and conditions” suddenly materialise late in the game, often long after delivery and acceptance. These might, for example demand “all rights in all media” thus denying the creator the opportunity to make later, secondary sales. The new demand might be backed by the threat: “Sign this or you won’t get paid”.
One extreme example of the “all rights” copyright grab is the case of a tiny specialist magazine circulating a few thousand copies a month in the UK. They pleaded poverty and the writer agreed a barely worthwhile licence fee for “first British rights” hoping for a steady flow of small commissions. Even before the piece appeared in the UK it was published in an Australian publication belonging to the same group and distributing nearly a quarter of a million copies monthly across Australasia. 
In fact that ended up as a minor success story. It occurred soon after the introduction of a new Small Claims Court qualified to deal with copyright disputes. The injured author initiated a claim for a more appropriate fee and days before it was due to be heard received settlement. 
That was a rare instance of the power of lobbying. Previously the Small Claims Courts were forbidden from hearing intellectual property cases on the grounds that they required too much specialist knowledge. The CRA was amongst the bodies that argued for greater fairness. 
But, to judge by information received by the CRA, the list of abuses continues to grow. 
Once the ABSW survey data is examined we will report back and keep you up dated on the continuing work of the CRA on this issue.
If you wish to contribute any thoughts on this matter do of course email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .
Mike Harrison

President's Update October 2014

Martin’s update

Welcome to the first in what I intend to be regular updates on what is happening within your Association.

The ABSW no longer has a regular newsletter and our website, google discussion group (ABSW-L) and twitter and Facebook accounts have taken over the role of the printed Science Reporter as the means by which we communicate with members.

However at the last meeting of the Board it was suggested that I should be letting members know of the Board’s activities and that this might best be done by direct contact through our direct mailing list.   So here goes…

New Board Member

Say hello to your latest Board member, Joshua Howgego, deputy news and opinions editor, SciDev.Net, who was co-opted to the Board at our meeting in September.   At our elections in March we did not fill all the vacant places on the Board so we were delighted that Joshua put himself forward to in his words, ‘represent the interests of early career journalists, especially in the not-for-profit sector.’

Creators’ Rights Alliance

The Creators' Rights Alliance brings together the major organisations representing copyright creators and content providers throughout the media.

The CRA campaigns to: Confront growing abuses of creators' rights in all media, particularly newspapers, magazines and broadcasting; defend and improve the intellectual property rights of creators belonging to the member organisations; Promote greater understanding of creators' intellectual property rights within the industry and among the public.

The ABSW is a member of the CRA and is represented on the CRA by ABSW member Mike Harrison.

Mike is in the process of writing an article on the current activities of the CRA for the ABSW website, the article will link to a form that members can use to provide anonymous feedback to Mike on issues they may have with intellectual property rights. Mike will then be able to better reflect the needs of science writers/broadcasters and journalists to the Alliance.

Future activities of the ABSW

The ABSW runs a small programme of events throughout the year.   Events this year to date have been the biennial UK Conference of Science Journalists, ABSW Awards Ceremony, the annual late Xmas party, an ABSW Panel debate on Investigative Journalism, and the AGM and post AGM members drinks.  Our next event is on Wednesday 29 Octoberas part of the Science Museum Lates, where Professor Sir Mark Walport, the Government Chief Scientific Advisor will be in conversation with ABSW Member and Channel 4 Science Correspondent Tom Clarke.

The Board has been considering how it can better meet the needs of all its members through events.   Moves are afoot to extend our reach outside of London to a programme of regional events.   We are also looking at the potential for a Summer School type event for students and/or early career science writers and journalists.  

To help us programme events that fit your interests and/or needs for skills development there is now a form on the ABSW website for you to feedback your ideas to us.   Your idea for an event can be as simple as a title or generalsubject area or can be much more fully formed with ideas for speakers/venues etc.   You don’t need to take an active role in organising any event you propose either, although volunteers are always welcome.   So do make the most of this new way of letting us know what events you would like to see programmed.

ABSW Awards

The Awards are now well and truly re-established, and we presented eleven awardsat our Ceremony in June this year.   The Awards are financially secure for a further two years as we have now signed an agreement for continued support with Janssen Research and Development.   A key part of this agreement is the introduction of a further Award for European Science Writer of the year, more will follow on this new Award but it will enable you to nominate your chosen British Science Writer of the Year to be judged against those nominated by the other science journalism associations throughout Europe.

As the year comes to a close it might also be a good time for you to reflect on your work over the past months in order to choose what you might enter for the Awards in the Spring.  

That is all from me for now but I will send a further update after our next Board meeting in November.  Of course if you have any feedback on this proposed regular President’s update then do get in touch through This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

All the best


Martin Ince, President, ABSW




Statement from the ABSW Board regarding EUSJA
The Association of British Science Writers has been a member of the European Union of Science Journalists’ Associations (EUSJA), for many years and pays an annual fee for its membership.  The ABSW is also a member of the World Federation of Science Journalists, the organisation behind the World Conference of Science Journalists that the ABSW held successfully in London in 2009.   The ABSW is keen to ensure that there is added value to its members from belonging to such international groups.
On March 27 2014 the board of the ABSW met and decided that the membership of EUSJA is no longer in the ABSW’s interests. EUSJA has been notified of this decision.
The ABSW is in discussion with some other European associations with the aim of forming a new European Federation of Science Journalism.
Martin Ince
President, on behalf of the ABSW Board
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