McKenna & Blum (and her Pulitzer) leave ScienceBlogs

Those tired of the ScienceBlog saga, forgive me. This is necessary, for reasons I explain below. But first, the news:

With two very different and eloquent posts, two of ScienceBlogs’ newest and best writers, each of which has published this year a great book, have left ScienceBlogs.

First, Deborah Blum, author of the new The Poisoner’s Handbook and the earlier, incredible Love At Goon Park : Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection:

Writing for all its communal nature requires a comfortable solitude. And for a journalist-blogger like me, that means I write from the self-respecting corner of my life, the place where I work really hard to get it right and am proud not only of the product but of where it appears.

And I just haven’t been able to do that at Sb these days. It’s like trying to write while sitting in a chair with a broken leg. There are lots of ways to write about science – funny or serious, investigative or literary – but it has to be done from a solid platform of mutual respect between writer and reader, blogger and blogging home. I can’t write the stories I want to tell when I’m worried about the integrity of the chair I’m sitting in – and my own integrity along with it.

Very soon after that, Superbug author Maryn McKenna grabbed her coat:

Let me tell you a little story about my first husband.

We met when I was in graduate school. He was a foreign journalist working in America and I interned where he worked. I left town, finished my degree, moved back. We reconnected, got married, and were considered enough of a catch — two sharp young thrusters, an investigative reporter and an editor — to be head-hunted by a large paper in the Midwest.

To defuse romantic nostalgia, it is important to say that he was unsuited to marriage, with outsize appetites for beer and for women who were not me. But he was perfectly adapted to journalism, smart, bold, adored by his staff, and rising up the professional ladder fast enough to leave contrails.

We had not been at that paper very long when stupid actions by his supervisors confronted him with a choice that no one who loves their work wants to make: Stay and be ethically compromised, or leave with intact standards and an empty wallet. He chose to leave, yanking the brakes on his trajectory and blowing up his career.

I’ve always admired that action. I always wondered whether, faced with a similar situation, I’d be that brave.

Which is my way of saying that I’m leaving Scienceblogs.

I track this because it represents not just a major shift in the science blogosphere — the unbundling of one of the first and still the most prominent collection of science bloggers — but a disturbance in the new media landscape as well. ScienceBlogs, like Discover’s excellent collection of bloggers, is a different way of bundling content: Instead of a magazine or a paper in which you get a range of subjects, it’s an online only one-stop place to dive deep into a subject. All these venues — and more are being formed as you read this — are all trying to figure out how to make money, and in doing so, must confront old questions (how to make money in a way that doesn’t compromise content) amid new financial and publications structures. It’s a tough test. Seed Media Group has failed it; they’ve lost the faith of many of their contributors. They’ve killed the goose.

That’s why this is important to follow. Seed succeeded in something else: they brought to prominence a bunch of new voices and created some great (and sometimes not so great) cross-fertilization and conversations. Now the people with those voices are scattered. Some will reconvene in new collective venues. Some may not.

In some ways this resembles the shuffling of writers from magazine to magazine, newspaper to newspaper. Yet it’s more fluid, and it’s not at all certain where this will all go. And while the Net is great for allowing everyone to have a voice, the success of places like ScienceBlogs and Discover’s blogs makes it clear that a certain amount of branding and bundling still creates immense advantage, for both readers and writers. Right now you’re looking at a lot of chaos as various companies and collectives and individuals try to figure out how to make it work both ethically and financially.

Even as I finished: I can’t keep up. Zuska, another strong voice at SB, left as I was finishing this post, offering this amid her explanation.

I just don’t have the heart to do a grand summing up in the manner of Bora or Pal. I will note that this post on Adam Bly’s nascent blog leaves me feeling sad and tired. What does the Science-is-Culture media visionary in the year 2010 have to offer us: hairy old white dudes. And we should bubble over with enthusiasm. Thanks, I’ve had my fill, for this millennium and the last.

Follow Zuska here. My best wishes to all three, and to all those still at ScienceBlogs.

That brings the toll to 18. Carl Zimmer is kindly and efficiently tracking the exodus, with pointers to everyone’s new homes.

And later still: Dave Munger addresses some of these bundling trade-offs. And of course Bora considering the bundling/network effect, well and at length, in his farewell post yesterday. `

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