Is Science Writers Group Trying To Muzzle Press? p.15

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By: Joe Nicholson The National Association of Science Writers says it has a 'gentlemen's agreement' that the
derogatory remarks published on its Web site won't be reported by other journalists

A PRESTIGIOUS ORGANIZATION of science writers is using its Web site to post derogatory comments about a New York Times reporter as it simultaneously demands that other journalists not quote from this public Web document.
Shortly after a controversial "cancer cure" story by Gina Kolata was published on the front page of the May 3 issue of the New York Times, the Web site of the 2000-member National Association of Science Writers began publishing criticisms of Kolata and the story.
The various text messages have been penned by science writers, including members identified as newspaper reporters and correspondents at publications such as Time, U.S. News & World Report and Business Week.
The criticisms were delivered by e-mail and then organized into a three-section package of HTML pages that was published as a front-page feature that has remained available on the Web site for weeks.
The organization's public site (www.nasw.org), which requires no password and is immediately accessible to any of the Web's millions of users, now has more than 150 pages worth of text about the "cancer cure" story, much of it excoriating Kolata and the Times.

Wants No Coverage
But not only does the NASW demand that news organizations not quote from the material, it also has discouraged at least one journalist from writing about the very existence of the controversial content.
Ironically, one of the boilerplate declarations on the site's opening page says that "above all, NASW fights for the free flow of science news."
NASW president Richard Harris said there was "a gentlemen's agreement among everybody who uses it, all journalists" that messages on the Web site could not be used unless the message writers were contacted and granted permission.
Harris explained that one journalist has already tried "to write an article" about the NASW Web site's derogatory material about Kolata and the Times but was persuaded to drop the proposed article. Harris explained that the writer, who he did not identify, "quickly said, 'Never mind, I won't do it because it is going to disrupt things a lot.'"
'Pretty Ethereal'
Brant Houston, the executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors Inc. and an associate professor of journalism at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, said, "Suppose you distributed a letter to 500 people and then said, 'Please don't repeat anything I said.' What chance would you have to keep it from being discussed publicly?"
Houston suggested NASW's attitudes may reflect a membership made up of reporters who "live in pretty ethereal lands" covering academic research and science writers who work in public relations departments where they "are continually interested in controlling and steering how information is disclosed."

'Obviously in the public domain'
NASW's Harris, a science correspondent with National Public Radio, conceded, "Obviously it's in the public domain. . . . It's an odd thing to be on the Internet, the World Wide Web, because obviously it's there for anyone to see.
"People react differently to something that is floating around electronically on the Internet than they do to seeing something actually printed in a magazine," he told E&P. "Which is not rational, but is the way people are."

?(Editor & Publisher Web Site: http://www.mediainfo.com) [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher June 20, 1998) [Caption]

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