It’s come to this. We’ve been facing a steady erosion of talent here at Scienceblogs, with the loss of good people like Carl Zimmer and Ed Yong a while back, and with the very abrupt departure of 15 bloggers after the recent PepsiCo debacle — an event that damaged the reputation of this place. And now just yesterday we lost PalMD and Bora. Something is going rotten here. What could it be?
I don’t think it’s ultimately an ethical problem. I have every confidence that the management at Seed Media Group wants to do the right thing, and I think they have gotten many things exactly right: they’ve given us a platform and a lot of freedom to do what we want, and never once have they told us we can’t write this or we must write that. The lapses have been real mistakes, not part of a pattern of malfeasance. The economy has put a serious strain on the publishing industry, everyone is short-staffed, and there’s a constant struggle for advertising dollars to keep the lights on. Mistakes will happen. The test is whether the organization will act to correct them.
The key problem is one of communication. The bloggers here are almost entirely in the dark about what’s going on behind the scenes, and we get news indirectly and by rumor. We’ve had almost no technical support for over a year; when we do hear what changes are being made, it’s almost always trivial tweaks to support advertising. We report bugs, we get back silence. We see the ads that appear on site getting cheesier and cheesier. We don’t know what’s happening, and there is no mechanism and no effort made to enlighten us.
The problems go the other way, too. SMG doesn’t know much about what we’re thinking. The PepsiCo issue would have never happened if there’d been any discussion with the bloggers — we’d have pointed out that it was blurring the line between content and ads, and responsible changes would have been made before it went online. I can tell you that a lot of the bloggers here are very concerned about the departure of colleagues, and there has been much rightful concern about the future of this network, especially since Bora left. Yet management doesn’t seem at all worried, or at least is not telling us about their concerns, or is completely oblivious to the fact that many of their bloggers are talking about leaving for less fretful spaces. We have no idea what’s going on, and that makes the situation worse.
I’ve decided to light a fire under management and get some visible effort to resolve the problems. I don’t expect instant easy answers, but I do expect to see positive efforts under way. I could just pack up my bags and leave — another thing that Seed has done right is that they do not treat us as captives — but then I would just be hurting an already hurting organization, and I really do like Seed and Scienceblogs and all my fellow bloggers. They’ve been good to me. So, to add more incentive to getting some action, I’m going on strike.
This is going to hurt. I like blogging; I do this for fun, and because I want to get my message out there. I also know what effect it will have on my traffic if I stop posting, because you’re all a sensible lot and you’re not going to waste time reading a site that has nothing new to say. I just checked, and I’m in the midst of a bit of a traffic surge, with almost 190,000 page views yesterday alone…and that’s going to decline precipitously. I get paid for that traffic, too, so it’s going to hurt my pocketbook. My wife has already given me one of her long-suffering looks when I told her what I had to do, but then, I get those from her all the time, as you might expect. Sorry, my check will be smaller this month, on top of the salary reductions my university has announced.
So this is my last post for a while. I don’t know how long; maybe SMG will contact me right away and surrender to my demands (which are pretty mild, so it’s entirely possible). Or maybe the pattern of silence will continue, and with regret and exasperation, I’ll have to find a new host somewhere else. Whatever happens, we can’t keep going as we have.
Oh, right. Demands. You can’t have a strike without some goal that will resolve it. Here’s what I want from Seed:
Immediate formation of a mechanism for communication between management and bloggers. We’re an unwieldy group, so setting up a small committee of bloggers with regular (monthly) conference calls, and the option for ad hoc calls when serious issues come up, such as the PepsiCo mess.
Prompt responses from management. When Bora left, that was a major event; there should have been a quick in-house response that would have involved scheduling a conversation within the week. No more long silences.
Regular updates on the status of tech support, and input from bloggers. We’ve got bugs, they get ignored, and the priorities are biased towards advertising opportunities. Ads are important, but who is going to want to advertise at a place that’s falling apart? Or has big signs saying “ON STRIKE” out front? Throw us a bone now and then.
Transparency. Bloggers need to be informed about any problems in the parent organization, and we’d also like to hear more good news, too. Fly new plans by us so you can get feedback before they go live and blow up.
More trust. This may be an odd one, but the bloggers are dependent on the financial health of Seed, too. It’s OK for management to suggest to us what they’d like to see more of on the blogs; I have no problem with suggestions, for instance, that we throw in more nutrition or food blogging this month, because we’ve got an advertising contract from PepsiCo, as long as our response is optional and as long as we’re also free to criticize.
See? Those demands shouldn’t be so hard to meet. Now the test is whether Seed can exhibit a little agility and respond to them expeditiously.
In the meantime, the comments are open, and I have some requests.
Make other suggestions for Scienceblogs. Assuming Seed actually does make an effort to repair the situation, what don’t you like here? What should the priorities be for improving your experience on Scienceblogs? Can it be fixed?
If they don’t, what next? People were already making suggestions in the previous thread: I need concrete information on setting up an independent server, technical assistance, getting ads to pay for the thing, etc. Seed has taken care of all of that painful work for me for so long, that it would be a bit of a shock to leave, and leaving is the least pleasant option for me. Hold my hand and tell me what to do.
Coffee and donuts on the picket line are also welcome.
Just in the time it took me to write this up this morning, Superbug, Zuska, and Speakeasy Science have all announced their departures, and Casaubon’s Book is considering it. We really are having a serious crisis of confidence, and Seed has to wake up and take action.
I’m hoping more blogs don’t leave, but instead join in this strike. We need to publicize and organize and make Seed feel compelled to make changes, I’d rather not see it become a ghost town.
Add Mike Dunford to the list of departures.