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.