The Life and Death of Blog Networks

The hot topic of the day is, of course, the big shake-up at Scientific American's blog network. The official statement is, of course, very carefully worded, but the end result is that they're shedding a bunch of blogs and instituting a standard set of guidelines for those that remain. A more detailed breakdown of who's staying and going, with some interesting commentary, was posted by Paige Brown Jarreau earlier this morning; additional comments from the network editor are in this post by Matt Shipman, and there's some additional commentary from the media watchdogs at the Knight Science Journalism Tracker.

I'm very much an outsider to this, but my quick take would be that this was pretty much inevitable given the high-profile PR catastrophes they've suffered in recent years-- the D.N. Lee episode where a post was hastily deleted and then slowly restored, and then the Feynman kerfuffle earlier this year that led to the ejection of Ashutosh Jogalekar. These are two different sides of the same basic phenomenon, and they caught hell on social media for both.

The new standards are pretty clearly crafted in response to both of these, including statements about when bloggers are expected to seek editorial oversight, and what will be done when problematic content is posted. While this may seem heavy-handed, on balance its probably a Good Thing-- if you're going to have a system where a large organization is assumed to have ownership of the content they host, you really ought to have a set of clearly defined standards for what is and isn't allowed. If you don't, you end up running on the Roger Goodell system, where basically anything goes until a shitstorm gets kicked up on social media, at which point you hastily improvise a response. Which leads, in different ways, to both the Lee and Jogalekar disasters.

So, the new standards are probably necessary, because if you're going to have editorial oversight, you need to have clear standards. And it's clear from prior events that people want some degree of editorial oversight. It's a shame this had to lead to a big shake-up with people quitting or being asked to leave, but then the system they had was pretty clearly untenable.

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There's an element of irony in the timing of this, as a week or so ago I had occasion to look at the front page of ScienceBlogs for the first time in ages, and said "Holy shit, two-thirds of these posts are by me." I had noticed that traffic was down, but there really don't seem to be a lot of operational blogs left on the network, and for the first time in years, I seriously considered whether I ought to investigate moving elsewhere.

But, while there is technically a requirement that bloggers at ScienceBlogs abide by the standards and practices of National Geographic, in practice, they're very laissez-faire-- I've never been questioned about anything I've posted. (In large part because I mostly stay away from topics that lead to trouble...) The other still-functioning blog networks all seem to be stricter, and while I'm sure I could accommodate that, it seems like a big hassle to move and I wouldn't be gaining much. I'm kind of an uncomfortable fit for National Geographic, but the other options don't seem terribly appealing, either...

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You should get your own space. You are a brand, if you will, it makes sense to have you own domain.

By xykademiqz (not verified) on 16 Dec 2014 #permalink

But, while there is technically a requirement that bloggers at ScienceBlogs abide by the standards and practices of National Geographic

IIRC, National Geographic and Seed parted ways back in the summer of 2013.

I'd love to see you shack up with Derek Lowe.

Incidentally, more links would have been nice. I have no clue what the kerfuffles you allude to are.