Speakeasy Science

Jet Lag

I started Speakeasy Science in late January on my author website. I’d finished my book on the invention of modern forensic toxicology in 1920s New York City – The Poisoner’s Handbook – but I’d developed an addiction to writing about chemistry and culture.

It was my first heady experience of working solely for myself. I’ve been a staff journalist at five newspapers, a freelance writer for a list of newspapers, magazines and websites, and a book author. I’ve worked with brilliant editors and indifferent ones, publishers who were generous, publishers who were penny counters.

My blog, right down to its artsy retro look, was just mine. My ideas, my unedited writing, my own vision of how to delve into the beautiful, fundamental and sinister science of chemistry. I was honored when, a few months later, I was asked to join the Science Blogs community, with so many writers I admired. And I learned to appreciate the astonishingly smart comments and diverse audience.

But I didn’t shut down my old blogging platform, just renamed it (The Write Note) and let it go quiet. Occasionally someone still shuffles through the old posts there and leaves a smart comment there as well.

All of which leads me to this week, in which I wrapped up some journalism business in Italy (board meeting of the World Federation of Science Journalists), returned home Wednesday, discovered that United had lost my luggage, and started playing catch up with the crisis here at Science Blogs caused by the decision to allow a sponsored blog by PepsiCo on the subject of nutrition science.

Right. Hard to write that last sentence with a straight face since it was such a bad decision, publicly mismanaged, played out like a farce. Of course, since Wednesday, United has returned my suitcase and Science Blogs has dropped the PepsiCo plan. Probably reluctantly since it did so in response to a blogger uprising in which many writers I know and admire – Rebecca Skloot, David Dobbs, and Brian Switek among them – pulled their blogs from this community.

But it did respond, which is something. I’ve been at newspapers at which fiery self-immolation wouldn’t have changed a planned direction. Business decisions are rarely pure, anyway, as we all know. In the most charitable light, mistakes get made and – as it appears to have happened here – mistakes get corrected. The part that’s not so easy guess is whether the correction is a cultural shift or merely a move to end a controversy.

I believe that the best thing about such events is that we can use them to question our bearings. So – surprise – I’m asking myself whether to stay or return to my old home where there is no possibility of clumsy business decisions because there is no business plan. No publisher to worry about counting pennies because there are no pennies. Just a science writer and her Word Press platform (which I’ve missed dearly since moving here.)

Somewhere over the Atlantic, during those hours at 35,000 feet, I missed my opportunity to quit in protest, to make a difference as these other authors did. So my questions at this point are mostly selfish – is the remaining community still a comfortable home? Some of my favorite bloggers have chosen, after all, to stay. Is this the right place for a chemistry and culture blog still? Was I wrong to give up the pure pleasures of a personal blog where I’m responsible for no one’s mistakes but my own?

If I knew the answers to those questions, I’d be able to tell you now my brilliant next move for Speakeasy Science. Still thinking it over, still jet-lagged.. Oh well. In just over a week, I’m flying to Jordan to teach a science journalism workshop in Amman. Perhaps somewhere in the clouds, back up there and out of touch again, the smart answer will come to me.

Comments

  1. #1 Kent Sharkey
    July 10, 2010

    Personally, I’d wait. While I expect that there will be more cause to not trust SEED, they seem to be willing to back off this time. Maybe next time they’ll be a little … smarter? about it. As others have said, having those “other blogs” so close helps linkage and increases traffic.

    One thing you might want to do to add a little protection is to look into whether you can use something like Feedburner for your RSS. That way, when you move, you can update the eventual destination, and we all come along without needing to convince everyone to update their feeds. I know Razib and Ed had a lot of issues getting everyone moved over.

  2. #2 Grant
    July 10, 2010

    Away from the main topic of your post, I would love to learn more about the World Federation of Science Journalists and your work teaching science journalism overseas.

    After my Ph.D. (many years ago now) I travelled for year, making a point of trying to locate the local resources centres for deaf people in India & Pakistan, etc., with a romantic notion of putting this to use somehow. (I did write to the World Federation for the Deaf, but to cut a very long story short, I ended up back at my science.)

    Your teaching overseas strikes a chord. I’d love to learn more about it, how you got into it, your experiences overseas.

  3. #3 Isis the Scientist
    July 10, 2010

    I’m sorry, Deborah. I feel partially responsible.

  4. #4 Murfomurf
    July 10, 2010

    I’d think carefully about staying. I’m not so sure that Pepsico isn’t lurking in the background, ready to spring out with another offer when we’ve all been lulled into a false sense of security. I and a lot of other readers are following the exiting bloggers and we’re not too keen about visiting ScienceBlogs any more. It’s made me think carefully about who and what is behind some of these blog collections- I think I might do some research…

  5. #5 Deborah Blum
    July 10, 2010

    No, no, nothing to apologize for. You opened up a terrific opportunity for me and until this week, truly, I’ve had a great time, right down to writing about zombies! This wouldn’t be so tricky for me if I wasn’t such a journalist, I suspect.

  6. #6 Deborah Blum
    July 10, 2010

    Good advice – I really do appreciate it.

  7. #7 Deborah Blum
    July 10, 2010

    Yes, I appreciate the very sane perspective. And you are so right about the challenges of moving the blog. Still thinking!

  8. #8 WIll
    July 10, 2010

    Great take…the smart answer is to stay.

  9. #9 evden eve nakliyat
    July 12, 2010

    Hi all;
    A fatal flaw was that they failed to have any representative posts ready to go up when the blog went live.

    Had they done so, and had the content been surprisingly acceptable, the reception might have been better.

    Instead we get this “Hi! Welcome to ShillBlog!” (crickets) and everyone, quite reasonably, expects the worst.

  10. #10 Julie
    July 13, 2010

    I realize the purpose of your blog is not to describe your travels.
    The life of a journalist seems to be a world of travel based on your last few posts. Wow! What fun. You mention so many different organizations and forums of discussion- so, so fun.

  11. #11 casey
    July 13, 2010

    Give it a bit and use the time to network :)
    Leverage the opportunity at very leas to expand your ability to stay penny pinching publisher free longer.

  12. #12 caseyhov
    July 13, 2010

    Oh and I forgot to say, I’d still read what you write regardless of where it is posted.

  13. #13 Deborah Blum
    July 13, 2010

    Now that made the day. Thanks so much.

  14. #14 Brook
    July 17, 2010

    Selfishly, I want you to stay. I can read scienceblogs at work while other blog platforms are blocked. But I understand what a tough position this puts you in.

    I am heartened by the management’s pulling the pepsi blog. Everybody makes totally boneheaded mistakes from time to time. I’m not happy that they’ve given no public explanation or asked their readers for suggestions for revenue streams.

    Perhaps you know a decent food technology journalist or can write about the chemistry of food (not the nutrition but the processing)? I wouldn’t mind pepsi paying for an independent blog about food technology in the same way I don’t mind when merck gives research money to a university. That way there are checks and balances.

  15. #15 Marlene Zuk
    July 18, 2010

    I’ll keep reading you too, wherever you are! Your blog is one of the best ways to make myself feel like I’m working when I’m actually procrastinating . . . and I mean that in the nicest possible way!

    Marlene

  16. #16 Deborah Blum
    July 18, 2010

    You are so nice – can’t wait for your new book, by the way. Keep me posted

  17. #17 Barb Morrissey
    July 26, 2010

    I have to say that I personally liked your old blog. I came to it after reading The Poisoner’s Handbook (which I adored!) and I liked the look you have going over there. But, wherever you go, I’ll read your blog.

  18. #18 adana evden eve nakliyat
    September 11, 2010

    Perhaps you know a decent food technology journalist or can write about the chemistry of food (not the nutrition but the processing)? I wouldn’t mind pepsi paying for an independent blog about food technology in the same way I don’t mind when m