Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sponsors as contributors - what would you do?

A bit of a different Going Pro article:  a situation online has provided us with an interesting thought experiment.
The past week, a large portion of the science blogosphere has been shifting.  I won't re-hash all the many posts and positions, but here's a brief summary as I understand it.

The ScienceBlogs.com network run by SEED Media has over 70 bloggers running their independent blogs (no editors, just bloggers) talking about science, and whatever other issues they like (atheism, gender issues, movies, shoes, politics and much more).  Scienceblogs.com put up a new blog, one paid for and run by Pepsico, to discuss advances in nutrition science.

Some bloggers felt betrayed: like Pepsico was buying credibility on the reputation the network had built up (it's indexed on Google News).  Others thought it was no big deal, they hadn't posted yet; wait for them to get out of line and address it.  Some complained about "Pepsi" and "nutrition".  Others cited this being the last straw in a number of complaints, some behind-the-scenes, and some public. A significant number of popular bloggers have left the network, including Laelaps by paleo-writer Brian Switek.

A Blog Around the Clock has a great list of posts on all sides of the issue.  Personally I'd recommend erv, Greg Laden, Living the Scientific Life (Scientist Interrupted) and Neuron Culture for a quick overview of some of the stances adopted.

* * * *

Now, here's the sauropod-meat of this article.  What would the various fans, contributors and artists here in the ART Evolved community do in a similar situation?

We're a smaller operation.  A large number of artists and illustrators and occasional posters but all on one blog.  We've all invested some of our online identity into this group, and most regular contributors have their own blogs. It's a loose network, but one I am proud to be a part of.

So, what if Peter, Craig and I announced one day, we were going to have one post a month from a corporate blogger, and they were giving money to us to maintain and keep AE afloat?  What if, the science-artsy street-cred of the corporate blogger seemed questionable:  a new Flintstones-type of unscientific t.v. series that popularized misconceptions about the prehistoric past,  (we could call it "Man & Dino", both sexist and inaccurate) and the articles seemed cobbled together by out of touch marketers?

What would you do?  As a reader, ignore those posts?  Ask for "paid advertisement" on the "Man & Dino" posts?  Not care, so long as it helped keep ART Evolved going?

There's not a right answer in my mind:  I have respect and see the points of people on both sides of the Pepsi divide. But here at ART Evolved, what would you do?



Trish said...

Oh darn, I have to happen to be the one to be first here. :/

I don't think there's an easy right or wrong answer here either. I do remember being in a similar situation year and years ago. I was a member of a small, very close-knit message board that wasn't very popular at all -- but everyone who was a regular poster helped make the place into a weird sort of family (a really messed-up family, but this was the good/bad old days of the Internet). Suddenly, after many months of silence (this was the kind of message board where the admins really didn't give a sh*t and you could say whatever you wanted to), the admins suddenly announced that the message boards and website now had corporate sponsors. At first, we didn't mind; we knew our little community was resting on a knife edge, mostly because the administrators were paying for it out of their own pockets, so a sponsor was grudgingly tolerated as a necessary evil. Life went on as normal...

...Until the sponsors asked the admins if they could, you know, maybe add a language filter so that if their young fans somehow ran into our website, they wouldn't see soooo many swears...

Things went right to hell after that.

I guess my response, with this past trauma in mind, is that a sponsor isn't bad idea *in theory*. It just depends on who the sponsor is (as in your hypothetical scenario) and what the sponsor wants (as in my experience).

davidmaas said...

If it had a creationist angle, I'd be gone, but then I doubt you'd go for that. Earth resource companies are more problematic... ie. an oil company with a dinosaur logo. Because most of the fossils we have are owe to earth resource exploitation.
I don't think the Pepsirage would take hold here generally.

Nick Gardner said...

I think this is so incredibly unlikely that you'll never have to worry about it. :-)

also, wtf, re-enable name/URL identities. having to sign in via google account or open id is lame.

Glendon Mellow said...

Thanks for the responses, all.

Trish, I agree: maintaining independence while having advertisers is essential.

David, I think Pepsirage could occur anywhere depending on how announcements of sponsors are handled. Springing big things on groups of contributors is never a good idea. However, you're right, we're a looser group of volunteers, not paid bloggers, so the emotional invenstment may have some relationship to the financial relationship.

Nick, I don't think it's likely either, but I thought it made for an interesting thought experiment. I think you can log in with name/url. I'm trying it now. We added the captcha to cut down on spam.

Glendon Mellow said...

Yup, name/url works. Craig, Peter or I have to give it approval, but between the three of us (especially Craig, I think) it's been speedy. Have you noticed a slow down?

Ever since a few of our blogs, Art Evolved included, were named as Google Blogs of Note, the spam getting through using simple logins increased quite a bit. We added the extra security to help. If lots of users hate it, we can give it a re-think.

Weapon of Mass Imagination said...

For the record we are not looking for a sponsor or money intake at the moment, but I agree with Glendon it has raised some interesting points.

Another one that always has me wondering, is if Google will ever make one pay for blogs? Not the exact same question, but I see it as related.

Though blogs are currently free, I currently have to pay to upkeep my Traumador accounts photos as I exceeded my free alotted storage (though Traum averages 5-30 photos a post, not a problem everyone needs to worry about).

Weapon of Mass Imagination said...

Nick and Glendon-

For the record I popped in after approving Nick's comment to find that he was correct on there being more restrictions to access our comment section then before(Blogger appears to automatically change this setting when one enables comment moderation). I fixed it at this time.

So Glendon you are correct now, as it were, while Nick WAS right at the time he wrote.

Just thought I'd clear this temporal conundrum up.

Also on the moderation itself, I'm putting in a very strong vote to keep it in place. It makes the removal of the 1-5 spam comments we now get a day (Nick's comment was accompanied by 2 spam for example) much easier and quicker for me, and doesn't make it to anyone with direct feeds to post comment sections or comment subscriptions.

Glendon Mellow said...

Ah. Thanks for clearing that up, Craig!

Nima said...

What if Pepsi sponsored ArtEvolved?

That's very interesting scenario. Having watched pretty much every episode of 'MacGruber' on SNL, I'd have to say the craziest (yet most freakishly relevant) of them all was the one where Pepsi literally bought out the star of the show, and all that his contract allowed him to say was the word 'Pepsi' repeated ad infinitum.

Now that's obviously a comedic exaggeration, but if Pepsi or something similar did want to sponsor us and ArtEvolved needed the money, it's a big dilemma - how much would we need the money, and how much would we be prepared to compromise for it?

I personally would ask for no less than a binding contract signed by Pepsi that the material in every one of their "posts" would have to have our approval first.

Second, the whole "Man and Dino" thing would be a total nonstarter. Promoting a cheesy Flintstones ripoff on a scientific blog is worse than ignorant, it's STUPID (though the semantics of the title aren't really sexist - any more than the anime short film "She and her cat" could ever be considered sexist).

The worst part of Pepsi "buying" us out is censorship, we may not be allowed to write certain stuff that doesn't jive with their quaint pre-dino-renaissance rosy tinted view of the Paleo-world. Forget about swear filters, I'm talking about literally restricting the flow of information and even our art.

What if Pepsi demanded that we fork over all the rights to any of our art that was posted on ArtEvolved, in galleries or not? Now I doubt that Pepsi would take much interest in our blog unless we become really big, build a sort of "Paleo-Alliance" of professional artists, in which Glendon's advice about going pro would probably be our best roadmap.

If enough of us did go pro and ArtEvolved became an influential network of the next generation of paleo-artists, then wrestling with Pepsi may become reality. In any case, before we'd take any money from them, let's make sure we do our homework and grill 'em good.