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NSF Public Communications & Media Policy

The Office of Legislative and Public Affairs (OLPA) is the authorized news media liaison for NSF. Within OLPA, the Public Affairs staff works to promote science, engineering and education research coverage in mainstream and targeted media, facilitating the timely release of accurate information. The overriding goal is openness and accessibility. This section represents an updated media policy as part of NSF's scientific integrity policy.

Media Coverage
Types of Information Disseminated by NSF to the Public
Guidelines for the Media

NSF's media policy covers advisories, press releases, statements, interviews, news conferences, and other related media contacts. Public affairs staff facilitate the active dissemination of agency research results and coordinate media and public relations activities. A principal goal of public affairs is to help NSF most efficiently achieve its agency mission through sharing information based on sound and objective science.

NSF-funded scientists and NSF staff have the fundamental right to express their personal views, provided they specify that they are not speaking on behalf of, or as a representative of, the agency but rather in their private capacity. So long as this disclaimer is made, the employee is permitted to mention his or her institutional affiliation and position if this has helped inform his or her views on the matter.

Employees have the right to review, approve, and comment publicly on the final version of any proposed publication that significantly relies on their research, identifies them as an author or contributor, or purports to represent their scientific opinion. Under no circumstance may public affairs officers ask or direct NSF-funded scientists/engineers and staff to alter their scientific/technical findings.

NSF's public affairs office is responsible for:
  • promoting media attention on important scientific and institutional developments;
  • coordinating and facilitating contact between journalists and the requested agency staff;
  • providing both reporters and scientists with timely, accurate, and professional media assistance; and
  • providing draft press releases or other public statements to agency scientists whose work is included, to assure the accuracy of scientific information being communicated.

NSF employees are responsible for:

  • working with the agency's public affairs staff to make significant research developments accessible and comprehensible to the public;
  • ensuring the accuracy and integrity of their communications; and
  • consulting with the public affairs office prior to any communications with media representatives.

Media Policy: Media and Public Interactions
To help NSF public affairs best fulfill its responsibilities, agency employees should:

  • keep the public affairs office informed of any media interest or potential for interest in their work;
  • notify the public affairs office of impending media contacts and provide the public affairs office with a recap of the media conversation afterward;
  • review drafts of press releases written by staff from the public affairs office both for their format and non-scientific content, as well as for the accuracy of scientific information being communicated;
  • work with the public affairs office to review presentations or news conferences for their format and content to assure the accuracy of scientific information being communicated.

NSF's public affairs officers should:

  • respond to all initial media inquiries as soon as possible, but seeking to respond within 30 minutes whenever possible;
  • do all they can to help reporters get the appropriate information needed for an article;
  • know the reporter's deadline to ensure timely response;
  • provide contact information where they will be available, even after hours, on weekends, and on holidays;
  • draft press releases and/or other multimedia products whenever warranted;
  • ensure a timely turnaround on press releases (within one week or less);
  • develop (or coordinate the development of) talking points in collaboration with the relevant experts for the release of scientific papers and other agency products;
  • assure agency compliance with the No Fear Act (a federal law that holds agencies accountable for violations of employee protection laws) by informing employees of their rights under federal anti-discrimination and whistleblower protection laws.

Media Coverage
In the spirit of openness, media representatives should be granted access to open meetings of NSF advisory committees, open sessions of the National Science Board meetings, and other meetings open to the public and convened by NSF, as well as permission to reasonably use tape recorders, cameras, and electronic equipment for broadcast purposes in these public meetings.

The public affairs officer coordinating a meeting may be present, or consulted, to undertake all responsibilities of a news media nature, including but not restricted to necessary physical arrangements.

It shall be the responsibility of the public affairs office to cooperate fully with and accede to all reasonable requests from news media representatives. In instances where disputes or misunderstandings may arise from the expressed views, wishes, or demands on the part of news media representatives, such matters should be referred at once to the head of NSF's Office of Legislative and Public Affairs for resolution.

Below are examples of the types of information that NSF considers within and outside the scope of the policy guidelines. Neither of these lists should be considered comprehensive.

A. Covered Information
  • NSF-generated reports, brochures, documents, newsletters, and audiovisual products;
  • Oral information, including speeches, interviews, expert opinions only if representing NSF's views, official positions, or policies;
  • Science & Engineering Indicators and other reports of a statistical nature, which includes statistical analyses, trend data, etc., aggregated by the National Science Board and NSF's National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics.
B. Information Not Covered
  • Documents or multimedia materials not authored by NSF and not representing official views, including research supported by NSF funding;
  • Opinions where the presentation makes it clear that what is being offered is personal opinion rather than fact or NSF's views;
  • Information dissemination limited to government employees or agency contractors or grantees;
  • Information intended solely for intra- or inter-agency use or sharing of government information, such as budget discussions, National Science Board and NSF deliberations, and other information that serves to assess the success in achieving the agency's objectives, programs, training materials, manuals, etc.;
  • Information intended to be limited to public filings, subpoenas, or adjudicative processes.

Types of Information Disseminated by NSF to the Public
Annually, NSF produces hundreds of various types of outreach and communication materials and provides thousands of pages of Web content for access by the public. NSF's public affairs office works with university and institution public information offices to generate and distribute content.

Types of Dissemination
NSF disseminates information through a wide range of methods, using more than one medium for the same information. In light of the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, NSF strives to publish most of its print products in electronic, rather than paper, format.

  • Print: including limited quantities of NSF's Strategic Plan, Science & Engineering Indicators, National Science Board special reports, etc.;
  • Electronic: such as NSF websites, Listservs, e-mail, social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and FlickR;
  • Audiovisual: audio or video programs, media webcasts, slideshows, powerpoint presentations by the agency Director and Deputy Director;
  • Oral: formal speeches, oral presentations, lectures, and interviews for publication or broadcast.

Guidelines for the Media
When seeking information about NSF, or interviews with NSF leadership or staff, we ask that media contact Public Affairs for assistance. Our Public Affairs media team members, their contact information and the "beats" they cover are listed at http://www.nsf.gov/news/olpastaff.jsp.

When you interview a member of NSF leadership or staff, a member of the media team may sit in/listen in on the interview. Our goal is to support the interviewee and to assist you with any follow-up information needed.

If you contact us during normal business hours (East Coast time), you can expect a return call or message as soon as possible, within 30 minutes of your call or message, or at the most, the same day. We will do all we can to respond to your query by your deadline.

We will always provide you with accurate information and will work to put you directly in contact with the best expert to respond to your questions. Be aware that there are circumstances where the information we can provide is limited. These include details about possible or ongoing investigative work, pre-decisional budget data, and NSF personnel records.

When we provide editorial content to media, as with our partnerships with LiveScience.com and U.S. News and World Report, the content is clearly labeled as such.

We encourage you to make use of resources available on our website. Images and video in our press releases and Discovery feature stories are generally available for your use. Credit information and any restrictions on use will be listed with the image or video. Our Multimedia Gallery at http://www.nsf.gov/news/mmg/ offers images, videos and audio files, and is searchable by topic. Remember to check for credit information and any restrictions on use. Our National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) site at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/ provides useful statistics about the science and engineering enterprise, and links to the biennial Science and Engineering Indicators, published by the National Science Board.


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