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Draft minutes ABSW AGM 2010

Dear Member,

in advance of the 2011 ABSW AGM, the Association is publishing the draft minutes of the 2010 AGM. These will be finalised and approved by members on the 17th January.

Natasha Loder, Chair, ABSW

Draft minutes ABSW AGM 2010

Cancer Research UK, Lincoln's Inn Fields

Tuesday, 26th January

Called to order about 18:30

Minutes: Wendy Grossman


Timandra Harkness, Colin Blakemore, Wendy Barnaby, Jeremy Webb, Richard Hollingham, Claire Gilby


Andy Extance, Natasha Loder, Martin Ince, Sunny Bains, Ian Adamson, Kat Arney, David Dickson, Patrick Walter, Anna Lacey, Mike Nagle, Bob Ward, John Bonner, Asher Mullard, Diane Stilwell, Wendy Grossman, Susan Aldridge, Katrina Megget, Anna Lewcock, Kellye Curtis, Barbie Drillsma, MK Looi, Brian Owens, Paul Rodgers, Chris Cooper, Simon Levey, Connie St Louis, Godze Zorhu, Richard van Noorden, Julie Clayton, Zoe Corbyn, Paul Sutherland, Tim Watson, Chrissie Giles and one illegible.

Minutes 2009

The 2009 minutes are lost, so can't be approved. Noted that Ted's report 2009 was accepted.

Ted Nield's report for the first  half of 2009 was accepted. Ted stepped down as chair in mid-2009 and Natasha Loder was co-opted as Acting Chair.

Review of 2009

At the beginning of 2009 the ABSW's finances seemed to be in perilous state. The World Conference, which it was hoped would provide some profits, looked like it might lose money. Prior to co-option, Natasha and Ted made a number of changes intended to secure the ABSW's future. First and foremost of these was recognizing that  the ABSW could no longer afford to pay for a permanent part-time administrator, and Barbie Drillsma agreed to take redundancy. Some of her former work has been automated via the new Web site; other elements have been taken over by committee members; the ABSW will pay for a small amount of administrative worth about 20% of its income. In the event, the ABSW received about £40,000 as its share of the profits of the World Conference which makes it solvent.

Natasha would like suggestions and ideas for how to move forward from here using this lump sump to launch other activities, particularly ones that may generate income.

Natasha gave out lifetime achievement awards at the Natural History Museum, partly as a test to see whether the concept of low-cost awards she had been working on with Sunny Bains was workable.

Highlights of the year:

- the WCSJ conference

- a joint debate with City University on libel law. The debate filled a 350-seat auditorium and was recorded by the BBC.

- the new Web site was launched in October. 15% of members have already uploaded their details, and it has dramatically reduced the amount of administration necessary.

- 50 new student members joined from City University

- in December the ABSW submitted evidence to the BIS group chaired by Fiona Fox on science in the media

- Sunny Bains has successfully revitalized The Science Reporter.

- successful regional events in Bristol, Brighton, Cambridge, and London.

- pay survey of members, no migrated to the Web site reading room under "guides".

- Moved the ABSW desk within the Dana Centre.

Voted thanks to Mike Nagle for revamping the Web site and Michael Kenward for having managed it for many years. Thanks for Colin Blakemore for arranging the Dana Centre hot desk.


Natasha was the only candidate for chair and was unanimously voted in.

Kat Arney was the only candidate for treasurer and was unanimously voted in.

Vice-chair is Jeremy Webb

Committee members are Bob Ward, Mike Nagle, Ted Nields, Caro Kelday, Barbie Drillsma, Wendy Grossman, Claire Gilby, Jacob Aron, Anna Lewcock, Chrissie Giles, Mike Nagle, Mun-Keat Looi, Richard Hollingham

Colin Blakemore was reelected for a second three-year term as president.


For personal reasons Martin Ince was unable to complete the accounts in time for auditing before the meeting, or to complete the 2010 budget. The latter will be prepared in collaboration with Kat and will be presented to the committee for review.

The accounts for 2007-2008 will be posted on the Web site, followed by the accounts for 2009.

In 2009 the ABSW took in 50% more in membership subscriptions than in 2008, with three bursts of new members: the world conference, the launch of the new Web site, and the student agreement with City University. Mike Nagle reported that 75 people have joined since October, of which 50 were students.

The World Conference paid ABSW approximately £40,000, plus some additional money was made from a book sale and £15,000 was paid to the ABSW for administration. The capital is currently in a savings account paying 3.5%.

Because the ABSW has cut costs steeply and because of the world conference the ABSW is now the most affluent it's been in more than 10 years. It is in a good position to expand activities – for example, by running a one-day summer conference.

Martin noted that the ABSW has never had any formal legal structure but believes that with financial resources on this scale it is advisable to become a public trust company

- a cheaper way to incorporate that would still limit liability for officers and directors. Martin believes this is an important step if we are going to take on the risk of trying new activities.

The meeting voted for the change of status. Kat noted that the change would enable the ABSW to take direct debits, which was impossible as an unincorporated body.

Code of ethics

Some members have suggested the ABSW should adopt the code of ethics used by the US Society for Professional Journalists. It was asked why SPJ and not NUJ; Mike Harrison said the issue of respecting creators; moral rights should be included. Sunny Bains noted that professional standards and professional ethics are not the same thing. Bob Ward said it's necessary to be clear about the conditions under which someone's membership can be terminated – and that requires full consultation and possibly a change to the constitution. After much discussion it was felt that the idea needs further research. Wendy Grossman and Mike Harrison were coopted to form a committee to discuss it further and make recommendations.

A question of the constitutionality of elements of the proposal was raised. At this point it was discovered that the version of the constitution included in the agenda pack is not the current one, drafted and accepted while Toby Murcott was chair. It is therefore necessary to locate the current version of the constitution before settling this point.

Bob Ward noted that the constitution needs to be amended to allow emendations at SGMs as well as AGMs so it is not necessary to wait 12 months to make changes.


Proposals 1 and 2 were moot because of the previous vote.

Proposal 3 provoked some discussion. The meeting agreed that a committee is needed to consider the issues of the code of conduct, the constitution, and the articles of incorporation that will be necessary. Natasha would like to have a clause that allows the association to ask someone to leave in difficult situations involving abusive behavior.

The future

Natasha believes that although there may be a crisis in science journalism in the US in the UK the picture is more mixed: the number of jobs is stable, though freelance rates are static and many journalists are too overworked to get out of the office. The ABSW should think about what it can do to make lives better for journalists. She is optimistic that science journalists' status has increased in newsrooms, but believes the BIS report may not support the areas we would choose, such as helping investigative journalists.

With the help of Julie Clayton and Sallie Robins, Natasha has secured seed funding of £12,000 a year from Johnson & Johnson's pharmaceutical and research division for low-cost awards to run in 2010 through 2015. The arrangement will give Natasha three years to run the awards and then her successor two years to decide whether to renegotiate or continue on our own. There will be four or five prizes of £500 each, presented at a stand-up event limited to 100 people. Irish journalists will be included among those allowed to apply.

The funds the ABSW has now should be used as a "fighting fund" to be invested in things that will yield benefits in perpetuity or earn money. As an example, the committee have agreed to spend £5,000 to support a one-day conference in July that will be like a mini-WCSJ and include training, talks, and, in the evening, the awards presentation. Julie Clayton will organize this event.

In addition, the ABSW should support for example, the libel campaign, which will deliver something we all need and want: sensible libel laws.

Another key initiative is securing access for members to the scientific literature, something that is now difficult especially for freelances.

Finally, Natasha hopes during her tenure to start a fellowship scheme that would provide a journalist with sufficient funds to take a month off from their regular journalism job to do investigative journalism.

Other business, matters arising

Julie Clayton is asking members who may be interested in attending the one-day conference to sign up to register their interest and help her build up a mailing list. The tentative date, July 23, will be confirmed after a visit to the venue in a couple of weeks. Julie would like to he2ar from any members willing to serve on the programme committee.  Julie thanked Bob, Barbie, Simon, and Martin for their help.

Mike Nagle noted that all Web content can be private or public, users can change their own details and join and/or pay online, and there are integrated external blogs, RSS feeds of everything the ABSW publishes, job listings, and a jointly edited committee area.

Vote of heartfelt thanks to Michael Kenward.

Congratulations to Peter Briggs, who was awarded an OBE in the New Year's honours list.

Peter Briggs and Peter Cooper were appointed auditors for the coming year.

There was a discussion of the jobs listing policy on ABSW-L, which currently cost £50. The meeting voted to remove the charge (losing approximately £300 to £400 a year in income) and to reconsider the matter should providing such listings free of charge become a problem.

Sunny Bains asked if it was possible to automatically link jobs from the list to the Web site job section for those who do not have time to read the list. Mike Nagle said it was technically too difficult but that members can get an RSS feed of the Web site job listing.

Life memberships were voted for Michael Kenward, Barbie Drillsma, and Rick Stevenson.

Wendy Grossman noted that the committee reviewing the constitution, the code of ethics, and the articles of incorporation will need to consider what the position of bloggers and other non-traditional journalists should be in the ABSW.

Meeting closed at 8pm.

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