A dubious offer April 30, 2007Posted by dorigo in internet, italian blogs, personal, politics.
As I had a chance to mention in a post, a few weeks ago I received an offer from a major italian newspaper , to write a blog for them.
The newspaper, Il Sole-24 Ore , had contacted me earlier in March to inquire about the “New Scientist/Economist affair” – the appearance on those magazines of imprecise information on the possible Higgs boson signal seen by CDF, something of which John Conway over at Cosmic Variance and myself here had been blamed as partly responsible (we were not, although I did apologize later to my colleagues in CDF, since some had felt betrayed by our blogging activities). At the time, I had had the pleasure of talking with serious journalists from Il Sole, which had then used in a correct way the information I had provided. A relatively error-free account of the matter had appeared in the Thursday cultural insert of the newspaper, and I had had a good impression of their professionalism.
The offer I received shortly thereafter from the same publisher consisted in becoming a blogger in the context of a new project that was to start in May on the web site “NOVA”, together with as many as 100 other “innovauthors”, as they called us – more or less known personalities of the cultural scene in Italy. Among the 100 there were going to be illustrious scientists like Margherita Hack , well-known writers such as Daniele del Giudice, successful filmmakers as Gabriele Salvatores , exhilarating cartoonists like Stefano Disegni , and other figures like Lapo Elkann, to which I would prefer not to attach any adjectives here (he is quite wealthy and I would be quite sued). All in all, a pretty weird group of people, but my admiration for Hack in particular had kept my interest going at the start.
The idea was that we would have a blog within their web site, where we could write anything we liked, provided we kept it original, innovative, and interesting. No problem with that. However, our pages would run advertisements of which we had no control – a fact that really bothered me for the daily potential of making me mad (I could in fact imagine quite a few ads that would make me sick – and I would be working to sell the product regardless).
A second problem I soon envisioned, as the picture became less sketchy, was the fact that we would have no control on the visual appearance of our pages. And we would not be provided with any form of statistics of visitors, incoming links, nothing. The latter thing is quite unacceptable, as any mature blogger would agree: understanding what is read and what is not, from whom, and what gets linked, is of vital importance for a serious blogging activity.
And then I received by e-mail the contract they offered. I was really surprised: I would be paid 0.10 euro per every monthly visitor (meaning 10 cents for a visitor who came once a month just as much as 10 cents for a visitor who came 100 times during the same month), but I would have no means of controlling the incoming traffic!
Now, while the hypothetical remuneration did not look too bad – a high-traffic site might easily provide its bloggers with several thousand monthly visitors, without any special effort on their part – the conditions of the contract looked ridiculous: by being prevented from verifying the traffic, the blogger would be left in the dark on whether the publisher was paying or not the right amount. A contract, I reasoned, had to be something which made any money exchange transparent to both parties. I felt I was asked to sign something that only protected my publisher.
Other conditions in the contract also upset me. I was conceding to my publisher the copyright of whatever I wrote; I was assuming total liability both towards my publisher and towards third parties, and I was also going to be liable for what commenters wrote on my posts; I was not to write anything that could damage the image of Sole-24 Ore, either. And so on. Basically, I was going to be on a leash, for a dubious income, and I was selling the rights of what I would write.
Despite this setback, I really wanted to accept the offer. I was curious to see what would happen, and I had a large amount of material to write about: I reasoned that, worse coming to worst, just translating the most interesting posts I had written in English during the last two years would have kept me going for a few months, so the extra workload did not look too threatening (something to take in account because, of course, I was not going to stop writing my private blog here anyhow).
I decided to negotiate better conditions. In particular, I wanted to be guaranteed I would have a means of controlling the traffic to my site.
(To be continued…)