Summer School


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
From the Royal Society website...
Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books
Mark Miodownik’s Stuff Matters has won the 2014 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books.
This prestigious prize celebrates outstanding popular science books from around the world and is open to authors of science books written for a non-specialist audience.
The winner was announced at a public award event on 10 November 2014. The author of the winning book receives £25,000 and £2,500 each is awarded to the authors of the five shortlisted books.

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




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 finalists in the Press Gazette British Journalism Awards have now been announced.   A few ABSW members have made it to the shortlist for Science and Technology Journalist of the Year.   Winners will be announced on Tuesday 2 December. 
Science and Technology Journalist of the Year - sponsored by Astellas
Chris Smyth – The Times
‘NHS urged to claw back huge payoffs for managers’, £1m payoff, then NHS brings back managers’ and ‘Alarm over shortage of nurses on NHS wards’.
Pilita Clark – The Financial Times
Investigation into the global water crisis.
Steve Connor – The Independent/i
‘The lost girls’ (on illegal abortions), ‘The next genetic revolution’ and ‘One girl, three parents?’.
Ian Sample – The Guardian
‘Leading doctors raise alarm over delays to medical trials’,  ‘US scientists boycott Nasa conference over China ban’ and ‘Handle with care ‘.
Kate Kelland – Reuters
‘Saudi Arabia takes heat for spread of MERS virus’, ‘In virus hunt, Saudi Arabia suspects African camel imports’ and ‘Patients recruited for vital studies on Saudi MERS virus’.
Pallab Ghosh – BBC
‘Badger trials were ineffective and failed humanness test’ and ‘Ministers willfully ignoring scientific advice’.
Press Release issued by AAAS 6 Nov 2014
Stories exploring the complexities of human biology, including our interactions with the trillions of microbes we all harbor, the influences of our fishy evolutionary forebears on how we look, and the enduring challenge of understanding cancer, are among the winners of the 2014 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards.
The awards, administered by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) since their inception in 1945, go to professional journalists for distinguished reporting for a general audience. The Kavli Foundation provided a generous endowment in 2009 that ensures the future of the awards program.
Independent panels of science journalists pick the winners, who will receive $3,000 and a plaque at the 2015 AAAS Annual Meeting in San Jose, Calif., in February.
Rob Stein, a science correspondent for NPR, won the radio award for reporting on the microbial hitchhikers that live on and in the human body. "In addition to revealing potentially profound new insights into human health," Stein said, research on the human microbiome, as it is called, "raises tantalizing questions about our relationship with the world around us, and even in some ways what it means to be human." The growing field of research also raises some tricky ethical concerns, Stein noted. "Altogether, producing this series proved to be a challenging, fascinating and thrilling journey," he said.
Michael Rosenfeld, David Dugan, and Neil Shubin won the in-depth reporting award in the television category for a three-part PBS series on "Your Inner Fish." The winning series described how Shubin, a fish paleontologist, and his colleagues use fossil evidence and our DNA history to trace different features of our anatomy to animals from long ago. Natalie Angier, a science writer for The New York Times, praised the PBS series. "I particularly applaud the segments that reveal what fieldwork is really like," Angier said, "and the graphics really brought the fossils to life."
George Johnson, a contributor to The New York Times, won in the large newspaper category for three insightful essays on cancer and some of the misconceptions about the disease. Hillary Rosner, a freelance writer who was one of the judges, said Johnson's pieces "are gorgeously written and offer fascinating perspectives on a topic we like to think we know a lot about."
Alan I. Leshner, chief executive officer of AAAS and executive publisher of the journal Science, said a new online entry submission system for the contest resulted in a record 606 entries across all categories, suggesting that "there is a tremendous amount of good work being done in many venues of science journalism at a time when public understanding of science and its impact is more important than ever."
The full list of winners of the 2014 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards:
Large Newspaper--Circulation of 100,000 or more
George Johnson
The New York Times
"Why Everyone Seems to Have Cancer" 
Jan. 5, 2014
"A Tumor, the Embryo's Evil Twin" 
March 18, 2014
"An Apple a Day, and Other Myths" 
April 22, 2014
George Johnson described how cancer is vying to become the final killer as heart disease and stroke are beaten back; how researchers are finding that the same genes that guide fetal cells as they multiply, migrate and create a newborn child are also among the primary drivers of cancer; and how the connection between the foods we eat and "the cellular anarchy called cancer has been unraveling string by string." As Johnson noted regarding the food-cancer connection, "Trying to tweeze feeble effects from a tangle of variables, many of them unknown, inevitably leads to a tug of war of contradictory reports." Laura Helmuth, science and health editor at Slate, an online magazine, praised Johnson's mastery of "a subject that people have a lot of misconceptions about." Johnson, who previously won the large newspaper award in 1999, said he began immersing himself in the mysteries of cancer while writing his last book and "the subject still has me in its grip." He wrote two of the award-winning pieces for his monthly "Raw Data" column in the Times.
Small Newspaper--Circulation less than 100,000
Matthew LaPlante and Paul Christiansen
Salt Lake City Weekly
"Devastated: The World's Largest Organism is in Utah -- and It's Dying" 
Nov. 21, 2013
Matthew LaPlante and Paul Christiansen described efforts to understand what is killing the aspen groves of Utah, clones of genetically identical trees that exist as single interconnected organisms with unified root systems that can cover 100 acres or more. A clone dubbed "Pando," first identified in the 1970s as likely the world's largest organism, has an almost complete lack of juvenile and adolescent tree stems, a sign that the ancient organism (perhaps 80,000 years old by some estimates) may be dying. Despite an onslaught of boring insects, bark beetles, canker infections, and other problems, some researchers suspect the underlying cause of Pando's distress may be the long-time suppression of forest fires that promote new growth as well as the hotter, drier winters associated with climate change. Helmuth noted the story's "engaging explanations of clones and the debates over how to determine what is the oldest or largest organism." Kathy Sawyer, a freelancer formerly with The Washington Post, said: "The writing provides easily digestible descriptions of the complex influences in play in the environment and how researchers have teased out insights about the forest, with its unified root system, and why it may be dying." LaPlante commented: "I'd like to think this project is an example of how we can make science alluring -- even romantic -- without exaggerating the scope of the research, confusing our audience or pandering to anyone." Paul Christiansen, who was an undergraduate student at Utah State University at the time the winning piece was written, is now a reporter in northeast Wyoming at the Gillette News Record. "I'm hoping to be able to expand my writing to incorporate more science pieces in the future, much like the story Matthew and I are being recognized for," Christiansen said.
David Dobbs
Pacific Standard
"The Social Life of Genes" 
September/October 2013
David Dobbs explained how a growing body of research with diverse species, from bees and birds to monkeys and humans, suggests that social life can affect gene expression at a scale and breadth not previously suspected. Sawyer called the piece a "fascinating, entertaining trip through studies of gene expression and how scientists came to learn what they know about how genes interact with our social environment." Dobbs also explored some of the more speculative questions raised by the research, including just how quickly a person's gene expression may change in response to social isolation and other environmental factors. The story is rich in detail, including an opening description of how researchers kidnap "foster bees" from switched colonies, vacuuming them up, shooting them into chilled chambers and freezing their gene activity. Peggy Girshman, executive editor of Kaiser Health News, said Dobbs used "clear and creative prose" to lay out "complex issues in ways a layperson could really grasp, not always easy to do." Dobbs said he welcomed the encouragement by the judges as he works on a book which deals with similar themes. "Writing rigorously and engagingly about behavioral science is terrifically challenging," Dobbs said, "and this story in particular took an enormous amount of work."
Spot News/Feature Reporting (20 minutes or less)
Michael Werner
"The Ecology of Fear" 
March 6, 2014
Michael Werner explored the return of wolves to the Cascade Mountains in Washington state and the impact they could have on a vast wilderness area where prey species must learn to cope with their new neighbors. He reported on the work of biologist Aaron Wirsing, who uses a simple video camera (a "deer cam") to study predator/prey relationships and provide insights on how we think about wolves. The judges applauded Werner's piece as a good example of enterprising science journalism at the local level. "Discussions around wolves are too often fueled by passion rather than science," Werner said. "The whole topic of wolf management is a lightning rod for controversy. I'm fortunate to work with a strong and supportive team who believed in this story and understood the power of showing what it means to have wolves on our landscapes." Richard Hudson, director of science productions for Twin Cities Public Television, called Werner's entry a "compact, well-paced story" with solid writing and editing. "I like the intense focus on one scientific study," said David Baron, a freelance science writer. "We get a good sense of the question being asked and how scientists intend to answer it. I especially enjoyed the deer cam."
In-Depth Reporting (more than 20 minutes)
Michael Rosenfeld, David Dugan, Neil Shubin
Tangled Bank Studios/Windfall Films for PBS
"Your Inner Fish" (series) 
April 9, April 16, and April 23, 2014
Neil Shubin, the author of two books on popular science, has spent his career studying the distant reaches of our family tree, looking for evidence of the ancestors that helped shape the human body. Much of how we look today, from our necks and lungs to our limbs and hands, can be traced to our fishy evolutionary forebears, including amphibious creatures that first crawled onto the land more than 300 million years ago. Every reptile, bird and mammal alive today is descended from ancient fish, including us, Shubin notes. Hudson applauded the "fascinating, creative storytelling with illuminating, effective, high-end graphics throughout." He said the smart pacing and use of humor was a plus, "yet the humor never compromises the consistent focus on scientific discovery." Lila Guterman, a deputy managing editor of Science News, said: "I loved it. It had loads of science, including how it's done." Michael Rosenfeld, executive producer of the series, remarked: "Using multiple scientific disciplines, and with Neil himself as our charismatic presenter, we were able to take our viewers on a journey through millions of years to meet a strange cast of characters -- the ancestors that shaped our anatomy." Shubin added: "I'm thrilled to share this special recognition by the AAAS with Michael and David. One of the great joys of doing the show was the way it became a partnership between scientists and filmmakers, each bringing their different vision to telling" the story.
Rob Stein
"Staying Healthy May Mean Learning To Love Our Microbiomes" 
July 22, 2013
"From Birth, Our Microbes Become As Personal As A Fingerprint" 
Sept. 9, 2013
"Getting Your Microbes Analyzed Raises Big Privacy Issues" 
Nov. 4, 2013
As part of his continuing reporting on the collection of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microbes that we all harbor, Rob Stein told his listeners about the positive benefits we can derive from our microbiome, the distinctly personal nature of our microbial ecosystems, and the privacy issues that loom now that individuals can readily and inexpensively get their microbes analyzed. One of the pieces included an imaginary bus tour through the microscopic world of the body. Judge Marc Kaufman, a science writer for The Washington Post and other publications, called Stein's stories "a tour de force, as it were...deeply reported, very important and well described. Stein uses his medium extremely well." Naomi Starobin, a project editor at WHYY radio in Philadelphia, said she found Stein's three pieces "totally engaging." Stein used "a lot of creativity and clever use of sound to tell the story," Starobin said. "He fairly presents both the promise and the reality of where the biome research will lead. His trip through the human body feels like the Magic School Bus for adults."
Amy Dockser Marcus
The Wall Street Journal
"Trials: A Desperate Fight to Save Kids and Change Science" 
Nov. 14, 2013
In "Trials," a sweeping, multimedia project, reporter Amy Dockser Marcus followed a group of families and scientists trying to accelerate the development of a drug to treat Niemann-Pick Type C disease, a rare and fatal disorder of cholesterol metabolism that strikes primarily children. Those with the disease, which gradually steals mobility, speech, and the ability to swallow, seldom live beyond their teen years. The families and scientists, whom Dockser Marcus followed for six years, were part of a fledgling movement to change medical science in the United States and gain a larger role for caretakers and patients in shaping research protocols. In a gripping narrative, Dockser Marcus described the lives of the children and their parents as the new model of citizen involvement in scientific research emerged. She grappled with difficult questions on how to accommodate the understandable drive of parents to save their children without compromising the safety and efficacy of clinical drug research. "Telling stories helps create community," Dockser Marcus said. "We need to hear the stories of both patients and scientists. I hope that the Trials series shows that collaboration is essential to accelerating the discovery of new therapies." Pete Spotts, a science writer for The Christian Science Monitor, said the winning entry was "a fascinating story with strong reporting and writing." He added, "The writer's approach respects the different 'cultures' involved in what could have become either a vilification of meddling parents or of scientists more concerned about the fastidiousness of their trials than about the patients involved." Mary Knudson, a freelance science writer and editor, said: "The story is compelling, of major importance, rich with details, and highly readable."
Mara Grunbaum
Scholastic Science World
"Biting Back" 
Sept. 16, 2013
"Underwater Adventurer" 
Oct. 7, 2013
"Swallowed Up" 
Feb. 3, 2014
In engaging stories about venomous animals, sinkholes, and a do-it-yourself submarine, Mara Grunbaum offered her young readers a look at how scientists and engineers seek to understand and interact with the natural world. She explained how erosion can carve out cavities in certain types of bedrock resulting eventually in a dramatic collapse called a sinkhole. But Grunbaum also sought to reassure her readers that the odds of being swallowed up in a sinkhole are very, very small. Her story on snakes and other venomous animals explained what makes snake venom harmful, how to counteract it, and how researchers are using ingredients of venom to treat disease. Her piece on 18-year-old Justin Beckerman described how he built a working submarine out of a piece of plastic drainage pipe. She explained forces, such as buoyancy and fluid pressure, that Beckerman had to understand before he could make a successful sub. The piece on Beckerman "skillfully draws you into a simply cool story while telling you important tenets of science," said judge Christine Dell'Amore of National Geographic News. Tina Hesman Saey of Science News said Grunbaum's piece on the submarine "seamlessly incorporates the failures inherent" in science and engineering discovery and "teaches concepts without ever bogging down the story." Grunbaum called the award a "huge honor," adding, "I love writing about science for kids -- and I learn a lot in the process."
The Kavli Foundation
The Kavli Foundation is dedicated to advancing science for the benefit of humanity, promoting public understanding of scientific research, and supporting scientists and their work. The Foundation's mission is implemented through an international program of research institutes in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, neuroscience, and theoretical physics, and through the support of conferences, symposia, endowed professorships, and other activities, including the Kavli Science Journalism Workshops at the Knight Science Journalism Fellowships at MIT. The Foundation is also a founding partner of the biennial Kavli Prizes, which recognize scientists for their seminal advances in three research areas: astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience.
American Association for the Advancement of Science
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world's largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journal Science as well as Science Translational Medicine and Science Signaling. AAAS was founded in 1848, and includes 261 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of 1 million. The non-profit AAAS is open to all and fulfills its mission to "advance science and serve society" through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education, and more. For the latest research news, log onto EurekAlert!, the premier science-news Web site, a service of AAAS.
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.


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

ABSW Calendar

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