23 October 2020

AAS to Suspend Its Press-Release-Forwarding Service

PRESS RELEASE (updated 30 November)

** Contact details appear below. **

AAS LogoThe American Astronomical Society (AAS) has decided to discontinue its press-release-forwarding service by year’s end. For more than three decades, the AAS Press Office has been sending astronomy-related press releases and other important announcements received from universities, observatories, government agencies, journal publishers, and scientific societies to an email list that currently numbers more than 2,300 science writers worldwide, including reporters, editors, producers, textbook authors, and institutional public-information officers (PIOs). The service has become unsustainable for a variety of reasons and will be suspended on Friday, 4 December 2020.

According to former AAS Press Officer Dr. Steve Maran, the service began “almost accidentally.” Early in his tenure, he mailed printed conference announcements to reporters who regularly attended semiannual AAS meetings and to PIOs who supported their institutions’ astronomers with media training and press releases. As email began to replace snail mail in the late 1980s, Maran switched to communicating with PIOs by email. “One day, a press officer who was on my email list asked me to distribute a release announcing some new work done at his university,” recalls Maran. “I did, and that led to other PIOs sending me releases. As reporters who showed up at AAS meetings began to use email, I added their addresses to my list too, and soon other science writers who cover astronomy and related sciences began asking to be included.”

AAS Press Officer Dr. Rick Fienberg has been managing the AAS press list and forwarding press releases since 2009, following Maran’s retirement. “Over the past 11 years our press-release service has grown into a monster,” says Fienberg. “Steve used to distribute a handful of releases each week. Now we average more than two dozen per week — more than 1,200 every year.” The AAS has a small staff, and Fienberg reviews, formats, and sends out most of the releases himself, spending an increasing amount of time on what used to be a small side project. Even slow Fridays, when Fienberg used to be able to focus on duties such as developing the press-conference program for the next AAS meeting and writing or editing articles for the AAS website, have become a casualty of the 24/7/365 news cycle. “Lately I’ve started receiving press releases on weekends too,” he says, “but so far I’ve managed to resist forwarding them till Monday morning.”

Just as the challenge of managing the press-release service has evolved, so has the service’s role in the broader media landscape. “When Steve created this, it was unique in the sciences,” says Fienberg, “but now it has significant competition from commercial services such as EurekAlert, Phys.org, and ScienceDaily.” Because these newer services cover all sciences, not just astronomy, they have become the first choice of universities and other institutions with scientists working in many disciplines. Thus it has become increasingly difficult to get PIOs to send their releases to the AAS too. “In order to keep our service comprehensive, which has always been one of its greatest strengths, I’ve had to start chasing down astronomy-related announcements that I’ve heard about from other sources,” says Fienberg. “The AAS used to be a big fish in a small pond, but now we’re a small fish in a big pond.”

“There was never an official policy or requirement by the AAS to create the press-release service,” says Maran. “It’s something that just happened.” Given the proliferation of other, more automated services as well as the ability for science writers to read press releases on the Web and to sign up to receive them by email directly from their issuers, a press-release-forwarding service is not something that the AAS would create from scratch today. It has become an increasingly labor-intensive anachronism.

“Over the years the AAS has been cited many times as a model for how scientific societies should interact with the media,” says Executive Officer Kevin B. Marvel. “Such recognition has almost always focused not on our press-release service but on the quality of the press room, news briefings, and other programs and services for press registrants at our meetings — something we’re proud of and that we intend not only to maintain but also to enhance.”

The AAS will continue to maintain its press list for the purpose of distributing its own press releases and those from its six topical Divisions, including media advisories for upcoming meetings, policy statements from our leadership, AAS Nova tip sheets, news of Society and Division prizes being awarded, and press releases from Sky & Telescope, which the AAS now owns and publishes. And we’ll continue to post headlines and links to press releases on the AAS Astronomy in the News webpage and to tweet them to followers of @AAS_Press.

Linked below are two articles that suggest ways for science writers to receive, and PIOs to distribute, astronomy-related press releases and other announcements once the AAS stops forwarding them from other organizations and institutions.

Contact

Rick Fienberg
AAS Press Officer
+1 202-328-2010 x116
Kevin B. Marvel
AAS Executive Officer
+1 202-328-2010 x114

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Connecting Journalists & PIOs Covering Astronomy (added 30 Nov. 2020)

After receiving numerous inquiries from journalists and PIOs, we subsequently created a “matchmaking” service via two webforms: one for journalists to fill out to express interest in getting on as many PIOs’ email lists as possible, and one for PIOs to fill out to express interest in getting as many journalists’ email addresses as possible:

The sign-up deadline for both forms is Friday, 4 December 2020. Our plan is to deliver journalists’ contact info to PIOs who signed up to receive it on Monday, 7 December. This will help minimize disruption in the global astronomy press-release-distribution ecosystem.


The American Astronomical Society (AAS), established in 1899, is the major organization of professional astronomers in North America. Its membership (approx. 8,000) also includes physicists, mathematicians, geologists, engineers, and others whose research interests lie within the broad spectrum of subjects now comprising the astronomical sciences. The mission of the AAS is to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe, which it achieves through publishing, meeting organization, science advocacy, education and outreach, and training and professional development