Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Internet’s first Blogger Strike.
PZ Myers, a biologist and proprietor of Pharyngula, a blog on biology on on ScienceBlogs.com, announced in a post yesterday afternoon that he was officially “on strike,” including in his demands to management increased communication, support, transparency, and trust from ScienceBlogs.com management.
ScienceBlogs.com is a collection of independent bloggers and experts who contribute content about science, nature, space, and climate, among other topics. The site apparently prides itself on a collection of 80+ bloggers who are free to post whatever they want, whenever they want, without editorial interference.
Myers’ just isn’t any blogger: his site accounts for more than 40% of ScienceBlogs.com’s total traffic, which on a whole surpasses that of Daily Kos. This ain’t small potatoes. But Myers, and dozens of others, are fed up with a complete lack of communication from the site owners. From Myers’ strike post:
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. [...]
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.
In recent weeks, the site has seen an exodus of a number of its most prominent and popular bloggers. It seems the straw that broke the camel’s back was ScienceBlogs.com allowing PepsiCo to pay off the blog network in exchange for setting up its own blog masquerading as a food nutrition expert.
Yesterday, PepsiCo placed a full-page, semi-permanent advertorial on the ScienceBlogs network. Or actually, it created a micro-site within ScienceBlogs to provide compelling user-centric content that builds PepsiCo’s position as a thought leader in the field of nutrition. Or wait, no, it’s actually a blog, just like all the other science themed blogs on the network. Only the other blogs are written by paid contributors from various scientific fields, while this one was purchased by PepsiCo and will be staffed by a member of its “sustainability communications team.”
While that certainly led to an exodus, bloggers were already fed up with ScienceBlogs. The PepsiCo whoring just crystallized the situation for those bloggers. As Myers notes, ScienceBlogs.com is owned by a company called Seed Media Group, which built out the network but, according to numerous bloggers on the site, fails to communicate with its network or even respond to the most basic of concerns.
And while dozens of bloggers left, Myers of Pharyngula isn’t shutting down. He’s going on strike, and has issued five demands of management:
- 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.
Note: he’s using ScienceBlogs.com’s own infrastructure to organize this strike. And remember, Myers isn’t a nobody: he accounts for almost half of the site’s traffic. He knows that the strike is going to hurt him financially:
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.
We have a real-life blogger strike in the works, and people are going to be hurt financially in order to have their demands yet. But working people and their supporters should rally behind Myers and ScienceBlogs.com: no matter the type of job, working people have a right to respect for their work, and decent treatment from their management. This is a remarkable event unfolding, and will be a significant marker for organizing in the new media world.