The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.
–Scientific American Blogs Disclaimer
There is no requirement that what you say you are and what your audience expects you to be will be the same thing. It is very hard, however, to tell your audience that their expectations and reactions are “wrong”.
Scientific American finds itself in this position once again thanks to another tone-deaf post on the Curious Wavefunction blog on the Scientific American Blogs network. Scientific American makes the disclaimer that the content of individual blogs on the blog network does not represent Scientific American.
No matter what they say, people are naturally going to assume that something published under the Scientific American branding will represent Scientific American quality and values.
The disclaimer may be adequate to keep any legal mud from sticking – though the legal team does seem willing to pull the trigger on taking down posts to reduce potential liability.
There are a couple of catches. First, as more traditional print magazine content moves online (whether behind a paywall or not), the line between a “blog” and an “article” that has editorial guidance and fact-checking blurs. While the difference may be very clear to professional editors and writers, we cannot assume that is the case for any given reader. Some readers are going to come to blog posts with the same high expectations they have for a Scientific American print article, and there are many bloggers on Scientific American Blogs that regularly deliver on those expectations.
Second, the Scientific American Blogs network benefits from its association with the Scientific American brand. That brand is built on reader expectations for interest and quality. The good news for Scientific American is that they have successfully associated their brand with quality and integrity. The bad news is that we are going to expect to see those things anywhere that brand is used.
When you are a household name with 100+ years of history, you cannot make those expectations and associations go away with a boilerplate disclaimer. You probably can’t make them go away at all.
A structural problem for Scientific American Blogs is that the network is too big and the editorial staffing too small to be able to provide the kind of editorial oversight the Scientific American brand leads people to expect. There are, however, indications that the new Scientific American Blogs editor, Curtis Brainard, is grappling with these issues and is working to address them.