Update 1 (7/8/2010): I’ve had some time to “chew on the gray area,”and Martin Robbins’ most excellent post on “Pepsigate” certainly helped (via David Dobbs). In short, I agree with Robbins’ argument and potential solutions. However, I’m still left wondering the following: Why wasn’t such a colossal stink about corporate-sponsored blogs previously raised by the community? Again, I admittedly lack the inside perspective because I’m not a ScienceBlogs member. Some of these sponsored blogs appear to be editorially independent, but full transparency is publicly elusive.
Update 2 (7/8/2010): ScienceBlogs has shuttered Food Frontiers and officially opened this issue up for debate, which pads the fair ounce of credit I think they deserve. Is this, however, a case of “a day late, a dollar short”? Yes, and rightfully so for those who left — especially the journalist-bloggers (i.e. David Dobbs, Maryn McKenna, Rebecca Skloot, etc.). But I’m an optimist. Perhaps management at Seed can truly learn from this experience, address the major problems that permitted the business operation to tarnish the editorial operation, and salvage their hemorrhaging community.
If you’ve been living under a science blogging rock, head over to Carl Zimmer’s summary of the ScienceBlogs and PepsiCo kerfuffle.
Didn’t get all that? Here’s a capsule review of the past 24+ hours:
- The 8,000,000-pound corporate gorilla PepsiCo struck a deal with Seed Media Group to join ScienceBlogs
- “Food Frontiers,” as the new blog is called, started with an introductory post by Evan Lerner
- The science blogosphere threw a conniption, with the majority* saying: “WTF is going on here?”
- In protest, some ScienceBloggers decided to vacate the premises (some temporarily, some permanently)
- ScienceBlogs finally added disclaimers about the nature of the PepsiCo relationship, i.e. that it’s “advertorial”
- News outlets (e.g. The Guardian) ran pieces about the fiasco
- When it’s a little too late, Adam Bly — founder and CEO of Seed — sent this letter to the ScienceBloggers
- (welcome to the present)
But are we all overreacting over a communications oversight here? Or is this a legitimate, fist-slamming-on-the-desk moment to stick up to The Man?
Or perhaps a bit of both?
I’m an outsider to the ScienceBlogging community, but it’s pretty clear ScienceBlogs screwed up by not fully disclosing, well… anything from the start.
To be fair, I think they deserve some credit on the grounds that they made an effort to rectify the situation — within 22 hours and 47 minutes, no less. Eventually they took down the offending blog. [Updated 7/8/2010]
That effort signals a fundamental change to the way their content is structured:
After: Editorial blogs. | Advertorial blogs.
I type “signals” and not “is” because the transformation isn’t complete.
Left out are the other advertiser-supported blogs, which include Collective Imagination (sponsored by GE), Next Generation Energy (sponsored by Shell) and What’s New in Life Science Research (sponsored by Invitrogen). These don’t have the “advertorial” bar across their banners, or transparent language like the Food Frontiers blog carriers:
This blog is sponsored by PepsiCo. All editorial content is written by PepsiCo’s scientists or scientists invited by PepsiCo and/or ScienceBlogs. All posts carry a byline above the fold indicating the scientist’s affiliation and conflicts of interest.
Furthermore, should all of the editorial blogs carry similarly weighty and standardized disclaimers? Or is that supposed to be universally understood by any John or Jane Doe who happens upon the site?
Paul Raeburn at Knight Science Journalism Tracker has an apt viewpoint in that regard, which I’d summarize as “look to the oldschool magazine guidelines.”
My point here is that this firestorm took time to settle down a bit, and the wheels of change still appear — beg — to be in motion on ScienceBlog’s end. During this time, some bloggers chose (as more probably will) to leave the community and host their content elsewhere.
Leaving the fact that Food Frontiers has yet to churn out anything beyond an intro post:
Is this a stance that will make history in the annals of science blogging? Or is bandwagoning on a once-again popular trend occurring?
I leave it up to you to decide.
As for me? I see some gray area left to chew on. I see valid points on all fronts, and think the writers at ScienceBlogs should have raised a bigger stink sooner on corporate intrusion– but ultimately I side with the bloggers. What happened here was not only sloppy, but signals a larger problem with the way ScienceBlogs is run. [Updated 7/8/2010].