In the wake of the PepsiGate scandal at Scienceblogs.com, which apparently everyone except bloggers there saw coming (1), one person comes up with the obvious 'money corrupts all' argument, but is that really so?
David Colquhoun works in a shot at Americans in wondering why every site has to have ads and blows smoke about the BBC - well, they are different cultures and Americans aren't all that happy about the idea of government-run media funded by taxpayers, including poor people, so if advertisements mean people with less money get to keep more of it rather than paying for situation comedies, that seems okay to me. And Americans distrust government, thus the reason for that whole seceding from Britain thing that happened once, so letting a new political party run the news every four years is a negative.
He has no objections to him getting paid for his work, of course, just science bloggers. Why the difference? No idea, it is just, he says. Money is a corrupting influence.
What he does not understand is that there is more than one business model on the Internet and not everyone is corrupt just because one failing company became corrupt. Obviously we have been here for years and never had to accept "long term sponsorship contracts" from Pepsi or anyone else, though we aren't big in blogging so perhaps advertising is easier to find. We have plenty of premium advertisers who do things our way if they want to reach the Internet's smartest readers and I have never had to call up anyone and ask them to do a payola blog, nor have we ever pulled an article because it criticized any of our syndication partners.
Scienceblogs.com is one company in a small market - yes, they are the biggest in blogging, at least until Discover steals the rest of their writers, but blogging is not the extent of science writing, and writers want more money, not less, if the Internet will be a legitimate alternative to print. It isn't yet, even among the most strident advocates of online science. All you have to do is watch social media and see science bloggers criticizing 'old media' until a job opening comes up for a low-paid position at Wired or some other place to know there is a fair amount of hypocrisy about the matter.
The flawed model is not paying writers, the flawed model is only recruiting writers who already generate a lot of traffic fomenting controversy and who recognize that their traffic has value to a magazine publisher, but then telling them the money comes from some magical place. And also fostering a culture that says corporate scientists are eeeeevil but wholesome academic bloggers and PIOs for non-profits are all ethical and wonderful.
Don't get me wrong, I am not defending what Seed Media CEO Adam Bly did - when he intentionally had pieces spiked critical of potential advertisers he lost all credibility here, despite my earlier defense of him - but I think it's silly to contend people cannot be paid lest they lose their ethical senses. BBC employees do not work for free so to think they are immune from pressure because taxpayers support that network rather than advertisers ... well, if you have watched BBC news coverage for any length of time you have seen plenty of bias.
Scienceblogs.com was created to do just what it does - Adam gathered the highest traffic bloggers he could find and convinced them to join each other and they would all make money. Obviously I do not feel like writers here are for sale if they make money because our mentality is different. Rather than being a magazine engaged in marketing efforts online, like Nature or Seed, instead of recruiting bloggers with the promise of money (then, anyway - no new people at Scienceblogs make money, many are bigger name people who signed up to get a larger audience) we went to researchers and book authors and said we would take money out of the equation by paying it to the contributors - every day anyone writing here can see how much money they make - so they wouldn't feel like they were doing outreach so someone else could get rich.
So bloggers can certainly make money and still write good stuff, they just need a better business model. I think it is cynical to assume all science writers simply cannot be ethical if they accept any money because a blogging company lost its way. Eliminating money entirely leaves the door open for them to instead be exploited by a billion-dollar company like the one that owns Nature Publishing Group, who pays its employees to recruit bloggers who will write for free. But NPG does not really care, they just don't want to be left out - I still regard them as a Science 2.0 company, whereas Scienceblogs is not, because they make an effort at an open discourse rather than having everything overtly focused on keeping a dying magazine afloat and a threshold for traffic or fame before letting people write.
It is only a matter of time before someone takes a look at Researchblogging.org and other things Seed owns. Are some sites blocked out of there because they are competitors to Seed or Scienceblogs? Is any research included if it praises a product or research Seed likes? No idea, and I am not alleging anything of the kind, but people are coming out of the woodwork talking about the cultural disaster Seed is, so that will shine a negative light on everything they have touched.
Back to the topic; should science bloggers be paid? The most successful people on Scienceblogs are the best paid and none of them have left, so in a capitalist world, that means being paid did not damage their quality or the audience would not read them. In a capitalist world where corporations win, they are the biggest and therefore the best. And they are most certainly huge capitalists. The miracle was convincing everyone for so long that they were not.
(1) Though the departed admit now they were either uneasy or unhappy for a while, leading all in the science writing community to wonder why they just spoke up now, when they knew Adam Bly treated interns like Apple treats Chinese child labor and he didn't like to pay his bills.
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