It took a couple of days, but the overlords at SEED Media Group have aborted the Food Frontiers blog. If anyone is still wondering why so many members of the Scienceblogs community abandoned ship after we learned that Pepsi had bought itself blogging space at SB, as good an explanation as any can be found in an email I received Thursday from a friend of the family. She had copied me on a letter she had written to SB CEO Adam Bly:
I am just a lay reader but reasonably well educated (law degree, clinical psychology BS summa cum laude). I follow climate and science issues as closely as I can – especially now since I live in a Gulf State and we are staring at catastrophe. Scienceblogs is on my tool bar so that I can check for new posts easily.
I have sent countless people to Scienceblog with the assurance that it was an independent site.
But no more. Not if Pepsi’s corporate interests are masquerading as science. I live in Mississippi the state with the HIGHEST rate of obesity and Pepsi and its zillion dollar advertising budget is right in the middle of all that fat and disease.
Sorry. I can not abide. I hope you will reconsider.
This doesn’t get at all the problems I and other current and former sciencebloggers have with the decision. But in the end, if the kind of reader we all hope to attract can’t abide the decision, then there really isn’t much room for debate.
The addition of the Pepsi blog a bad decision from a science journalist’s point of view. This should be clear after reading the explanations of the country’s best science-journalist-bloggers, including Rebecca Skloot, David Dobbs, Brian Switek, Maryn McKenna about why they’re leaving SB. I’m a lesser star in that particular constellation, but I share their fears about the damage the Pepsi blog has done to our own reputations.
I can’t speak for the scientist-bloggers. But there are plenty of them who couldn’t swallow this particular beverage, either. By the time I post this, the list of departees will probably be much longer than it is at the moment. Suffice it to say that the attrition rate — at least 1/10 within 24 hours — is worrisome. And it’s not just the quantity of that list that matters, but the quality.
What both scientists and journalists share is a need for credibility and respect. And we would have had neither in an environment in which bloggers that are paid to express their thoughts share virtually identical space with a corporation that pays for the same privilege. Attempts were made after the offending blog debuted to give it some degree of distinction, but slapping the silly term “advertorial” across the top in tiny type was barely a cosmetic change and didn’t address the fundamental problem.
Adam Bly argued that corporations deserve a seat at the table. But the truth is they have many such seats. They come with the billions of dollars in profits that can buy advertising.
Indeed, one of the primary explanations for the ascendence and popularity of independent blogging is the failure of conventional media to keep corporate influence out of the news pages. The Pepsi Scienceblog represented a step backward.
If, as many suspect, the SEED Media Group needs Pepsi’s money to survive, they maybe this five-year-old experiment in collective blogging isn’t long for this Earth. But for the time being, it looks like we’re back to some sort of ethical framework I can live with. Bly’s decision to accept Pepsi in the first place still troubles me greatly. But we’ve all had to face difficult choices balancing finances against principles, and first offenses aren’t usually cause for capital punishment. So I’m sticking around.