Summing up: By including this corporate-written blog in its stable of otherwise independent blogs, and especially by presenting it in the same format as the independent blogs, with insufficient labeling and transparency, Sb has imperiled the credibility of all of its bloggers. The ethical shadow is particularly acute for the bloggers who write about obesity and food culture, but the question of conflict of interest, and influence over content, could now be asked of any of us. There may have been a way to do this better: open the concept for discussion in advance of launching the blog, sequester the blog in a separate section, design the page differently to clarify its inevitably advertorial content, remove any PR management from the posts. This was not that way.
And erstwhile Scientific American editor John Rennie has a good summary of the ways in which PepsiBlog violated publishing standards, failing to separate editorial content from advertising.
Finally, we have Adam Bly, the head of our corporate food chain, explaining further revisions to PepsiBlog. These changes do seem to acknowledge and address many of the formal issues people raised. Advertising will be clearly labeled as “advertorial,” though labeling it “advertising” would be superior. Paid content will not go into the Google News feed, and paid content will be labeled clearly in RSS feeds.
This doesn’t address all of the broader issues at work, but it should slow the bleeding. I expect that those of us who haven’t jumped ship over this will not, and a few of those who did decide to leave may be lured back if the overlords manage to figure out how ScienceBlogs got to its current state of internal disaffection, and puts in place a system to prevent future breakdowns.