ABSW News

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.
 
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 But Pallab was the only one to get hold of Defra’s own unpublished report showing that the culls were ineffective and inhumane.”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
 

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.
 

Pride

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.
 

Prejudice

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
ABSW/CRA

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

 

 

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