By now, perhaps, you are aware of the uproar about the ScienceBlogs corner of the bloggysphere. PepsiCo has
bought started a blog here, called Food Frontiers. Many are unhappy, bloggers and commenters alike. Read PalMD’s take, and commenters there, for one perspective.
One of the potential disadvantages [of a blog network] is advertising and sponsorship. Here at Sb, we’ve been very fortunate in that our content is completely independent. We control anything in the center column. The top and right however belong to Sb, and they use this space to keep the place running. There have been several times when the advertising has been less-than-appropriate, and SEED has responded by altering it, but in this economy, it pays to be flexible. Ad content can serve as blog fodder. There’s nothing preventing those of us who blog here from critiquing the ad content as vigorously as we wish to…PepsiCo’s PR flacks basically own a the center column content on one of our blogs. This is not only a fundamental conflict of interest, it’s also deceptive. If PepsiCo is providing the content, it should, in my opinion, be clearly labelled as advertising.
The only way to be free of any corporate influence over content is to be 100% ad-free, as Ms Magazine so candidly revealed to us at the beginning of the 1990’s in Gloria Steinem’s famous editorial, “Sex, Lies, & Advertising“, with this stunner of an opener:
Suppose archaeologists of the future dug up women’s magazines and used them to judge American women. What would they think of us–and what can we do about it?
About three years ago, as glasnost was beginning and Ms. seemed to be ending, I was invited to a press lunch for a Soviet official. He entertained us with anecdotes about new problems of democracy in his country. Local Communist leaders were being criticized in their media for the first time, he explained, and they were angry. “So I’ll have to ask my American friends,” he finished pointedly, “how more subtly to control the press.” In the silence that followed, I said, “Advertising.”
The reporters laughed, but later, one of them took me aside: How dare I suggest that freedom of the press was limited? How dare I imply that his newsweekly could be influenced by ads? I explained that I was thinking of advertising’s media-wide influence on most of what we read. Even newsmagazines use “soft” cover stories to sell ads, confuse readers with “advertorials,” and occasionally self-censor on subjects known to be a problem with big advertisers. But, I also explained, I was thinking especially of women’s magazines.
There, it isn’t just a little content that’s devoted to attracting ads; it’s almost all of it. That’s why advertisers–not readers–have always been the problem for Ms
You really should read the entire editorial – it’s an eye-opener, believe you me. But in case you can’t be bothered, let’s just rephrase those opening paragraphs for the present case.
Suppose archaeologists of the future dug up science blogs and used them to judge American people. What would they think of us–and what can we do about it?
About three years ago, as official panic over the obesity epidemic was beginning and ScienceBlogs seemed to be ending, I was invited to a press lunch for a SoftDrinks official. He entertained us with anecdotes about new problems of development and packaging in his company. Local fizzy-fructose-beverage leaders were being criticized in their media for the first time, with calls for a tax on soft drinks, he explained, and they were angry. “So I’ll have to ask my Social Media friends,” he finished pointedly, “how more subtly to control the press.” In the silence that followed, I said, “Blogvertising.”
The bloggers laughed, but later, one of them took me aside: How dare I suggest that freedom of the blog was limited? How dare I imply that his blog could be influenced by ads? I explained that I was thinking of advertising’s media-wide influence on most of what we read. Even blog networks use “soft” cover stories to sell ads, confuse readers with “blogvertorials,” and occasionally self-censor on subjects known to be a problem with big advertisers and rainmakers. But, I also explained, I was thinking especially of science blog networks.
There, with the typical online model of using content to attract ads, ad generation is itself inherently problematic. Cut out the woo, the sexism, the racism, the evil fill-in-the-blank companies poisoning the environment, the military-industrial complex, the food industry making us fat, and what’s left to work with? That’s why advertisers–not readers–have always been the problem for ScienceBlogs.
Everybody – including me – wants their precious ScienceBlogs blogs content to remain completely controlled by the blog authors, and the blog authors alone, subject to absolutely no editorial control, from the cat herders or the advertisers. Who’s gonna pay for that? There are going to be ads, and now, blogvertorials. Or you, Dear Reader, are going to have to suck it up and pay a fee for the privilege of reading our pearls of wisdom. Who knows, maybe I, Your Blogger, will also have to start paying for the privilege of blogging here some day. I believe I shall leave when that day comes, but you know what they say: never say never.
As it stands now, Scienceblogs is more like Ms Magazine than Cosmopolitan, both in terms of its ability to attract advertising, and in the types of advertising its readers – and writers/workers – will tolerate without revolt. There are woo science blogs, and for them, the woo ads. The problem for ScienceBlogs, as a network that wishes to turn a profit, or at least stay afloat, is the same as the problem faced by Ms Magazine during the time it accepted advertising. Namely: advertising’s cherished virtues do not include integrity, honesty, skepticism, and a commitment to social justice. Appropriate, non-offensive ads for ScienceBlogs are few and far between. (But then, that might be said of advertising in general.) I am sure no one would be offended if my favorite farmer’s market farm advertised on ScienceBlogs – their produce is awesome! and organic! – but it is not going to keep the lights on.
The important thing is that our content – the content of the Real, True Bloggers Blogs – has never been sullied, controlled, or influenced, by editors or ads, and as far as we know, there are no plans to change that. Right?
Let’s examine the evidence.
1. Every time one of us blogs about some stupid fucknut ad you see on the sidebar or across the top of the page, even when the sole purpose of the blogging is to mock, abuse, criticize, and display our pithy, scathing, deeply insightful social commentary inspired by and pertinent to and deconstructive of the ad – we have called attention to the ad. And we have changed the content of our blog that day, in response to the ad. The advertisers probably cream their jeans every time we do it. No such thing as bad publicity and all that.
2. There is no ultimatum, but there was a kind request not to use words like “fuck” in blog post titles. I remember there was a good reason given with the request, though what it was I cannot recollect right at the moment. (Still, one is free to create fetchingly appropriate post titles like “Sucking Corporate Dick“.)
3. Awhile back, a goodly number of us were deeply aggrieved about Jim Watson, Avowed Sexist, Racist, and Despiser of Fat People Who Will Never Be Hired By Him, being on a Seed Media Group do-goodly board and we raised a fuss on our blogs. Eventually we were assured that Things Were Happening and asked if maybe we could be patient? (Translation: not so vocal out here in public.) Pretty much, I’m still waiting. I believe I will be waiting till the Second Coming of Christ. If I were of the right sex and social/weight class that would allow Jim Watson to perceive me as an appropriate person with whom to form close social bonds and business networks, perhaps I’d have trouble cutting him loose too, who’s to say. Sometimes, you do what you gotta do to run a business – and that might include asking your bloggers, as nicely as possible, to turn their attentions elsewhere for awhile – by assuring them, Things Are Happening.
So, there’s a PepsiCo blog. Read it or don’t. I won’t; my life is short, and I can’t keep up with the great blogs I already read, plus newspapers and books.
The minute Seed Media Group tells me Gigantico Corp. wants to put an ad on my blog post space, or just post an entry on my blog, or give me a little editing help, or maybe just ask me not to be quite so shrill because they think you can catch more flies with honey, which they now offer in convenient single serve no drip one use packets made completely out of bamboo which is a renewable resource and my readers might be interested in how they are saving resources! then I am outta here.
Perhaps a more interesting question is, should I be outta here now anyway? If an enterprise like ScienceBlogs cannot be funded except by taking money from sources that you and I, Dear Reader, deem offensive and unethical – why should I continue to contribute? I think this is another version of skeptifem’s question. I will rephrase it for my own purposes, more generally, thus:
How are we to live in this world when every action we take is tainted by some sort of injustice, some infliction of injury-at-a-distance? (and sometimes not so distant.)
I don’t know. It’s nearly impossible. Tread as lightly as one can. Each person has to decide where the breaking point is for her or himself. Pal’s or Grrl’s may come sooner than mine. Without a job, ScienceBlogs is like my workplace, where I hang out at the water cooler and catch up on the gossip. I am loathe to lose that, even though my primary care physician told me pointedly at my last visit that caffeinated sugary beverages are the devil’s drink. And their decaf, no-cal substitutes are no better, she added. Water! Pure clear water from the tap for you! she commanded.
Well, that’s what I have to say about that. Have at it, Zuskateers.