Thus Spake Zuska

“The Same and Not the Same”

The Same and Not the Same” is the title of a fantastic book by Nobel Prize winning chemist Roald Hoffman. It’s a great place to get a hearty dose of science + culture. Part Eight of the book is titled “Value, Harm, and Democracy” and has all sorts of interesting stuff in it on chemistry and industry, environmental concerns, chemistry, education & democracy. It does not have a section on what to do when you are running a media empire and your advertisers want you to censor your writers because they are still feeling a bit touchy over that whole messy Bhopal business, but you can’t cover everything in one book.

I have been extremely sad the past few days as I watch the Seed/ScienceBlogs Pepsigeddon nightmare unfold before me. Being part of ScienceBlogs has been extremely important to me, and something I’ve always been proud to claim affiliation with.

In my last post, I sought to draw an analogy between what I thought I saw happening with the now defunct, ill-fated PepsiCo blogvertorial at ScienceBlogs, and the previous struggles Ms. went through in the days it accepted advertising. Feminism and science are uneasy bedfellows at best, but they have this in common: most citizens are ignorant or ill-informed at best about them; are subjected to vast amounts of dis- and mis-information through highly effective marketing and propaganda machines that are better funded that the authoritative sources; and don’t always know where to go look when they do decide they want some reliable information on the topic. In addition, they are not the kinds of topics that advertisers flock to in droves. So funding a witty, attractive, meaningful, public-serving, truth-telling enterprise devoted to either subject is a daunting enterprise.

That’s what’s the same.

Here’s what’s not the same between the editors of Ms. and whatever passes for editorial ethics and guidance at Seed:

Ms., in 1990, at the time of going advertising free:

It’s been almost three years away from life between the grindstones of advertising pressures and readers’ needs. I’m just beginning to realize how edges got smoothed down–in spite of all our resistance. I remember feeling put upon when I changed “Porsche” to “car” in a piece about Nazi imagery in German pornography by Andrea Dworkin–feeling sure Andrea would understand that Volkswagen, the distributor of Porsche and one of our few supportive advertisers, asked only to be far away from Nazi subjects. It’s taken me all this time to realize the Andrea was the one with a right to feel put upon. Even as I write this, I get a call from a writer of Elle, who is doing a whole article on where women part their hair. Why, she wants to know, do I part mine in the middle? It’s all so familiar. A writer trying to make something of a nothing assignment; an editor laboring to think of new ways to attract ads: readers assuming that other women must want this ridiculous stuff; more women suffering from lack of information, insight, creativity, and laughter that could be on the these same pages.

I ask you: Can’t we do better than this?

Seed editor, 2010, as quoted in Guardian article:

We’re not running the bhopal piece, and we’re passing on the Maldive shark ban (a bit late now… Too bad it got caught up in prod week… ). As for Bhopal, it’s a cautionary call on our part as we’re in the midst of advertising negotiations with Dow (who have been inspired by Seed’s photography in their own brand campaigns). RE: the payment, as you’re on a scheduled direct-payment, the bhopal fee covers the Kerry/Carbon trading news piece fee that was outstanding. Let me know if that’s clear.

It’s clear that twenty years later, we really can’t do any better. We’re not just agonizing over toning down a word choice, we’re killing whole articles so that Dow doesn’t get its fee-fees hurt over that whole regrettable Bhopal thingy. Not because we already have an advertiser we don’t want to lose, but one we hope to gain. We’re shutting our mouths before anyone has even asked us to.

Read that Ms. editorial, and see what they went through, what their willingness to speak out cost them in terms of advertising dollars, the contortions they went through to hang on to the few advertisers they were able to coax to the table. Adam Bly, you really couldn’t have tried even half as hard as Gloria Steinem? Really?

Zuskateers, I believe this is my last straw. I’m leaving tomorrow for a week with Z-Mom, and there is supposed to be a conference call this week that will mollify all my concerns. I am ruminating, and will make an announcement when I am back from time with mom about my plans for the future.

UPDATE: response here and comments that follow.

Comments

  1. #1 Nat
    July 9, 2010

    Wherever you do end up writing, I’ll certainly tag along.

    Maybe it sounds stupid (and hopefully not cookie begging), but however much my eyes are now open to gender issues (and we’re talking that “sort of barely open, pretending to be asleep” level – still an improvement on the “eyes rolled back in head” state), I trace a good portion of it to things I’ve read here.

  2. #2 skeptifem
    July 9, 2010

    Keep on writing if you leave here. You have plenty of people who want to read, and will follow you. I’m one of em.

  3. #3 Sargassosea
    July 9, 2010

    Me too.

  4. #4 SKM
    July 9, 2010

    I, too, will redirect my browser to wherever you choose to hang your blogular hat.

  5. #5 jc
    July 9, 2010

    I’m with you. Enjoy your week away Z.

  6. #6 veganrampage
    July 10, 2010

    I just submitted this comment on Adam Bly’s first post. We’ll see if he censors it.
    (I will follow you too, Zuska as will many over at IBTP. I am sure word will spread. (Hey, if you need the bread, I won’t judge you ill if you stay. It is easy to be righteous when you don’t need dough, when you do it gets tricky.)

    Here’s the comment. Gaia wrote it in her comment section of the “ridiculous article” in the Guardian. Don’t women write ridiculous articles often? She reads pretty damn intelligent to me.

    “GaiaV

    10 Jul 2010, 1:19AM
    Contributor Contributor

    Hello, to respond specifically to comments made by Seed editors in response to my article above (more detail on this is on my website):

    The first response came from Lee Billings, senior associate editor of Seed magazine, who in a series of tweets, wrote: “that the Seed editor in question is no longer with the company”…”for what should be obvious reasons”, and “Behavior unacceptable”.

    So, to Lee, I say: yes, it is unacceptable. The individual who wrote me the email detailing Seed’s edvertorial policy rejecting my piece, while reproachable is not ultimately responsible. All responsibility for this must and does rest with the CEO Adam Bly. And to imply, as Lee Billings does in his tweet, that the individual is no longer with the company because they were sacked due to their lack of editorial integrity, is a pretty serious character assassination that I doubt bears out. I say, grow up, stop blaming the fall guy and accept responsibility for your company’s actions.

    Lee Billings’ further response in a comment above, details some articles published by Seed that criticize companies, some of which advertise with the Group. “It stands to reason,” he says, “that if the supposed editorial policies Ms. Vince claims are endemic here at Seed actually held sway, none of these articles would have ever seen the light of day.”

    Firstly, I didn’t suppose any editorial policies in my article, I merely retold my experience – having heard since from other people, I know understand that my experience was not a one-off, but that such editorial policy likely is endemic. Anyway, I don’t have the time or inclination to read the articles Lee lists, suffice to say that all that might be reasoned from them is that Seed has also published material that is critical of its advertisers.

    Now to Adam Bly who has commented on his own blog site:

    Firstly, he says: “The Guardian article is ridiculous” before deferring to Lee Billings. But he does eventually manage to speak for himself, to call the rejection of my Bhopal article “an isolated mistake”. Is that an apology, Adam? He then tangentially asks whether any of my “other big employers have made any mistakes”, which is a rather bizarre response to being caught with your pants down in the ethics office. I can’t answer for other media I’ve worked for, of course, except to say: not in my experience.

    Adam Bly’s second par, complains that “the Guardian article is not balanced” – er, it’s not supposed to be balanced, Adam. It’s a blog, an opinion piece. I have no doubt that the Guardian would afford you your right to reply, should you choose. The rest of the paragraph boasting your “editorial freedom” is another bizarre irrelevance in my opinion.

    In terms of this being “a malicious attack”, I don’t intend malicious sentiment, but the facts do paint an unflattering light on your character and editorial decisions.

    A proper response to my article (and to the Science Bloggers), would, I think, be an unreserved apology and a recognition of why your actions have caused such offense.”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2010/jul/09/seed-editorial-independence-scienceblogs

  7. #7 veganrampage
    July 10, 2010

    Zuska, didn’t realize all your proceeds go to charity;

    “Every click here is more cash for the Mautner Project for Lesbians with Cancer – I thank you for your donation!!!!”

    This cheers me considerably. All the manswers from the mansplainers are as good as gold. Irony I love you.

  8. #8 Anonymous
    July 11, 2010

    That editorial is amazing, and I am in awe of Steinem and the rest of the Ms. editors who took on that fight. They make Seed look like a bunch of little kids playing in a sand box.

  9. #9 Change
    July 11, 2010

    I’ll follow you wherever you go, if you do. Thanks for writing. I’m more aware now (through reading your blog) about the issues that women have to constantly put up with.

    The editorial by Gloria Steinem is an excellent piece. Thanks for pointing it out. It just made me realize how hard these women fought to subvert patriarchy and how much more there is to do.

  10. #10 Helen Huntingdon
    July 11, 2010

    One more who will want to know where to find you.

    veganrampage, thanks for that update.

  11. #11 Chris' Wills
    July 11, 2010

    Any idea what the cover price of an ad free magazine would be? The thought srose because in the linked article it was mentioned that Australian magazines generally had a higher cover price so could be firmer with advertisers.

    That would get around the advertising problems that Ms suffered from, just wondering if such a magazine would be viable.

  12. #12 skeptifem
    July 11, 2010

    Chris- Adbusters doesn’t have ads. It is about 10$ on the news stand (last I checked), much less by subscription, as usual.

  13. #13 saç ekimi
    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.

  14. #14 DSKS
    July 12, 2010

    Goddamn it. Well, the weak response to the Guardian column* leaves me no other choice but to take my infinitesimal contribution to bandwidth and quasi-civilised discussion elsewhere… as of tomorrow.

    I’ll certainly look fwd to reading Zuska, Isis and DM elsewhere, though.

    Huh. Seed… it’s for the birds.

    * it’s not really the possibility of expedient censorship that frustrates, so much as the wagon-circling, the finger pointing, and the “But..! But…!” BS. I don’t understand the childish aversion to falling on one’s sword in this day and age (one of the many things the Romans did for us); particularly because, in this day and age, one can usually get back up and make use of the recovered dignity.

  15. #15 JMS
    July 12, 2010

    Wow, that “response” to the Guardian is such a non-response!

    This Adam Bly person doesn’t know how journalism works, does he? His strawman that an article needs to be “balanced” smacks of someone who only watches FOXNews.

  16. #16 DSKS
    July 13, 2010

    Alright, still haven’t boycotted Seed yet. Tomorrow. But would you check this shit out! WTF? The comments are just outa there.

    Now I’m gone.

  17. #17 veganrampage
    July 15, 2010

    @Helen Huntington- It was my sincere pleasure and I thank you for your thank you! Captain Adam Bly did indeed censor my comment. I am shocked, shocked I tell you.

    (Pardon me for doing this here Zuska, but this may amuse Zuskateers while you vacate on your much needed vacation.)

    @Skeptifem- I am unable to comment on your blog for “reasons unknown” as per Beckett.
    Fantastic posts on this Pepsi mess so thank you.

    History Punk, notorious mansplainer in the comment section here, left you a message, an inviation in point of fact, on Comrade PhysioProf’s blog under the post entitled Pepsiblodgate 7/10. I repost it here for it’s vomitous value.

    “July 13, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    skeptifem

    I have been on and off for a few months now. Anyway, if you’re in the Baltimore area, my friends and I are getting together to discuss the role of the Marine Corp in liberating the women of Afghanistan. You’re welcome to attend.”

    You may read MY dainty and lady-like answer to his missive on CPP’s Blog if you wish. If anyone else is bored or infuriated or both and you want to let loose the hounds on this fool, this is the link to the good comrades blog. Good blog too.

    http://physioprof.wordpress.com/2010/07/10/pepsibloggate/

    Bringing people together; it is what I DO.
    Happy Day de le Bastille!

  18. #18 Chris' Wills
    July 17, 2010

    @skeptifem on 11 July

    Thanks.
    I had a look at their website and circulation is only 110000 and they survive and seemingly prosper.

    Could Ms have survived or be revived in the same way? Perhaps not in the long ago but today with all the cost savings the internet and modern printing provides.

    Ms did claim to have 450,000 sales at one point, so would only require a third of those to subscribe, or have the internet blogs made it superfluous as a communication method for its demographic?

  19. #19 et
    July 20, 2010

    It might not be bad to leave a world in which every wrinkle and kerfuffle is cast a a -geddon.

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