Goodbye, Ed

Yesterday, Ed Brayton, one of our cofounders, announced that he is leaving FreethoughtBlogs and moving to Patheos:

So why am I leaving? Also omnipresent since the start of FTB, as I’m sure you well know, has been controversy. The bloggers here have often gone on crusades and launched battles, most of them necessary and justified. But along with that has come a great deal of drama and stress. I’ve endured several threats of lawsuits against me as the owner of the network over the words and actions of others. I’ve had continual demands that I do something about this or that blogger, that I throw them off the network or censor them. I’ve been caught in the crossfire of a great many fights, continually taking shrapnel in battles that I wasn’t even involved in.

I believe it has to some degree impeded my ability to engage in important activist projects by making some people reluctant to work with me because of all that controversy. That frequent stress has also begun to affect my health. I have two autoimmune disorders that are triggered by stress and I have come to the conclusion that it would be better for my health, both physical and mental, to get out of the crucible and be responsible only for myself and my own words and actions.

We (especially Greta and I) talk a lot about self-care here, and we always emphasize that it should be okay to step back or quit when you need to for your own health. (Mental health is, obviously, included in health.) Of course, Ed isn’t really quitting, just moving his blog elsewhere, but he’s stepping back from the responsibility of leading a network like this one and being deluged with all the crap he got deluged with because of it.

Something I often say is that we should thank and encourage people when they practice good self-care, because that helps (if only a little) assuage the guilt that many people feel when they need to step back and also show others that self-care is okay (and not selfish, and definitely preferable to not-self-care). So, props to Ed for doing what he needs to do regardless of what others think he should do. I hope that his actions help more people feel empowered to care for themselves and trust that the projects they started will either continue in their absence, or maybe be reborn as something different, perhaps even better.

I also want to thank Ed for creating this amazing space. Despite some of the challenges, I think I’ve really grown as a thinker and writer as a result of being here. Ed has personally encouraged me many times and I appreciate that also. Often it’s fellow writers who best understand how easy it is to get discouraged and how quickly the self-doubt sets in.

I want to address some disturbing things I’ve been seeing in response to Ed’s departure:

1. “FtB is doomed!”

No, it’s not. Ed left an executive committee in charge, and I trust that they’ll be more than able to keep the network going. And if the loss in readership really makes it impossible to pay the bills, then either we’ll make money some other way or we’ll dissolve the network and continue blogging on our own. That wouldn’t be the end of the world either, but also, I don’t think it’ll happen.

Moreover, it’s actually not at all supportive to tell Ed that his leaving the network will doom it. A lot of these comments are being made in what is clearly meant to be a complimentary fashion, like “oh no Ed you’re so awesome FtB will just turn into a barren wasteland without your leadership,” but it’s not really a compliment to tell someone that they did such a crappy job of setting up a blog network that it’ll fall to pieces as soon as they leave, and also, that’s not going to make him feel any better about having to leave! So why say it?

Another important thing that Stephanie pointed out in a Facebook thread yesterday is that sometimes, it’s ultimately really helpful for older leaders to step back from the projects they started and let new leadership take over, because that’s how leaders get developed. If the same person always led a group or project from start to finish/dissolution, then nobody else would ever get a chance to try leading it. I’m curious and excited to see what will happen now.

2. “Well, what a shame, you and PZ are the only FtB bloggers I read, I check Pharyngula and Dispatches every single morning…”

I’ve actually been seeing this for years and only recently has it started to bother me. Obviously–obviously–you shouldn’t read blogs you don’t like that don’t interest you. If Ed and PZ are really the only FtB bloggers that interest you, then, I guess, only read Ed and PZ.

However, a lot of this is just sheer ignorance of what other people on the network are doing. When PZ shut down his social threads recently (also, like Ed, because people were being fucking overwhelming), I saw a comment from someone saying that they only read Ed and PZ because everyone else only blogs about their “bowel movements” and “mental health problem du jour.” (I’m not going to find and link the comment, because I value myself and my time.) That is so inaccurate and narrow-minded that I don’t even know where to begin with it, so I’ll just leave it.

There is something really disturbing to me about the sheer number of people who proudly announce–as if it’s meant to be a compliment to Ed and PZ, who started this network and brought all these diverse people onto it–that they only read two of the very few straight cis white male bloggers we’ve got. None of the women, none of the queer/trans writers, none of the people of color. Just two straight cis white male bloggers.

I realize I’m probably preaching to the choir, because if you’re already decided that only Ed and PZ are worth your time, you’re probably not reading this. But if you happen to have decided to explore the wild outskirts of FtB today, I really want you to think about why you’re only reading two straight cis white male writers on this network and nobody else. Especially if you specifically value Ed’s and PZ’s contributions to progressive discourse and social justice.

None of this is to put down Ed and PZ, whom I like and think are great even though I disagree with them sometimes (as I do with everyone). Both of them have always tried, to the apparent disregard of some of their readers, to promote and signal-boost the voices of other writers, both on FtB and beyond. Ed paid us a thoughtful compliment in his departure post:

Let me also say this: There are some very important voices here at FTB that should be getting far more attention. Miri Mogilevsky, Heina Dadabhoy, Taslima Nasrin and many others are doing some very exciting writing and if you aren’t reading them, you’re really missing out. The bloggers here have challenged me, proven me wrong a time or two, changed my way of looking at things more times than I can count. I really can’t thank them enough for that. Regardless of all the drama, I am hopeful that these young, dynamic, incredibly thoughtful people will help us transcend those divisions and make the atheist/humanist community stronger.

This isn’t just me trying to get more readers; I don’t feel that I especially need additional readers. I just don’t want people to think it’s some sort of a compliment to my friends and colleagues to proudly announce that they don’t read me and the other bloggers, and I also want people to diversify their reading in general, whether or not that ends up including me.

In any case, I wish Ed the best over at his new blog, and I hope that a little change in leadership might actually do us some good.

Goodbye, Ed

17 thoughts on “Goodbye, Ed

  1. 1

    Well said. While I’m glad to have Ed as a colleague at Patheos now, I’m neither more nor less interested in reading his writing there, nor am I more or less interested in FtB due to his departure. You and your other colleagues here are doing great work, and I suspect that you’ll keep doing great work. (But yes, you all do need to be read more widely, and I’m going to try and do my part to promote good pieces I see around here.)

  2. 2

    I came to Ftb following PZ from science blogs, but in the last 2-3 (4 even!?) years I’ve found myself looking forward more and more to posts on the low output/high thoughtfulness end of the network.

    I like Ed, I love his youtube video sumerising the Dover trial, but I’m not in the US so I only read his posts if there was a particularly funny headline.Although I thank him for setting up the network, I wont miss his writing here and can only wish him well in the future.

  3. 3

    I’m always surprised when people say that they followed Ed or PZ here and that they are basically the only FtBs they read.

    I’m surprised because I also followed them here and because I remember that a big part of the vision for FtB has always been to bring good, more diverse, but lesser known blogs to a wider readership. For me this meant that when I followed them here I subscribed to FtB as a whole and thus I was exposed to other great voices of an at least slightly more diverse nature. So I don’t understand this “sheer ignorance of what other people on the network are doing”.

    I get that most people don’t have the time (or the interest) to read every post, on every topic, by every blogger on any network (I scroll past many posts (even PZ’s and Ed’s) without reading for that very reason), but come on…? To to follow Ed from his previous blog home, through the setting up of his FtB project and FtB blog home, right up to now and yet to somehow not have tuned in to at least one new voice to value … at least some of the time … on the network started partly so that one could do just that? I’d be surprised if those readers (who apparently value Ed’s opinons very highly) even gave the other FtBers a fair try. If I were Ed reading those comments I’d be feeling pretty demoralised.

    I hope FtB does survive without him and I hope it continues to grow, because I have been introduced to new voices that I’ve come to value and would like to experience more. Heh, I even continued to follow two of them when they moved on to Patheos (I really don’t like that site, I find it a pain to visit and navigate) as I will with Ed.

  4. 4

    Good luck to Mr. Brayton, although I doubt he’ll need it over at Patheos.

    I’ve taken a look at most of the blogs on this network, but ultimately the only ones I regularly visited were this one and Butterflies & Wheels. I guess it’s just this one now.

  5. 7

    I really want you to think about why you’re only reading two straight cis white male writers on this network and nobody else.

    Alright. Since you’ve asked.

    Ed, OB and PZ generally write several post a day, usually one screen long, following a simple formula – a short description of whatever they want to address in that post, followed by a quote/picture/video, followed by more thoughts from the writer. Short, concise, engaging and surprisingly diverse, because the more post they make the more topics they can cover. They exceptions to this rule (for example, PZ’s longer and more in-depth biological posts), but that’s the general system.

    Most of the other writers (but not all, some, like Mano Singham and Dana Hunter, have a style similar to the Big Three) write only about one post per week (at best) which usually turns out to be very long and which focuses on one specific issue. You’d think that I’d have time to read those posts since they are so infrequent, but sadly I don’t function as a tachyon capacitor and can’t store excess time over a week. I either have time to read (provided I’m interested in the topic du mois) the post or I don’t. And for the most part, I don’t.

    That’s just my personal approach. Obviously others would disagree and there is place for all kind of writing styles on a network, but it’s also clear that there is some imbalance in the number of blogs with those styles. I suspect that the younger bloggers are more accustomed to posting their shorter insights on social media regularly, but that undermines the whole idea of a blog, unless by “blog” you mean “my weekly editorial”.

  6. 8

    I’m away and only from time to time some information of recent events reaches me. Should I count myself lucky?

    However, a lot of this is just sheer ignorance of what other people on the network are doing.

    That’s probably true. I’ve been on FtB for quite a while but I’ve never been a reader of Ed Brayton’s blog. What does it tell about Ed Brayton’s blog? Nothing. Completely nothing. It’s just my ignorance.

    Still, I’m not surprised that people are saying “what a shame, you and PZ are the only FtB bloggers I read”. Three points here.

    Firstly, there is a limit to the number of blogs you are able to visit regularly (for me it’s always been 2 or 3).

    Secondly, these choices can’t be translated into value judgments – it’s not “that only Greta, Miri and Ophelia have been worth my time”. On the contrary, such choices are really idiosyncratic! Choosing a blog to read depends on so many factors! It’s not merely about the topics, the style and the scope. (To give you an example, if a given blog gets systematically a lot of comments, it’s a turn off to me – I’m simply too overwhelmed. But I can easily imagine that for other readers it can function as an advantage – community building and so on.)

    Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, when you read someone for quite a while, a peculiar loyalty is built on the way – a sort of loyalty directed to people, not to the views and ideas. I can’t be unsympathetic to this: I count myself among those, who are far more loyal to people than to views and political programs. Moreover, I also think that, in the last resort, it is this this type of loyalty that matters most.

  7. 9

    Y’all, I said THINK about it, I didn’t say you had to TELL me about it. I also said that if those are the only blogs you like, then those are the only blogs you like! If you checked out the other blogs and you don’t like them, then you don’t like them! I was addressing the people who proudly proclaim that everybody but Ed and PZ only blogs about their bowel movements, which shows that they’ve never taken a look at their blogs.

    That said, I still think you shouldn’t be reading only men, or only white people, but I’ll leave that to you to think about and decide if you want to do anything about.

  8. 10

    Like a lot of others, I followed PZ here. But once here, I have read a lot of the other blogs here. Not everything interests me, although to be honest I have been surprised at how many different voices are interesting.

    I think that ftb may not be for everyone. The cut and thrust of the comments is often enjoyably intellectually ruthless. Fools are not suffered gladly. Not all blogs or bloggers are polite. Some bloggers and some commenters are angry. This is not a bad thing. Some people have stuff to be angry about.

    But browsing the stories on the main page and grazing as headlines catch my interest, my horizons have certainly been broadened. Good luck to the exec committee, I hope ftb continues as it is. And good luck to Ed.

  9. 12

    I read a range of blogs on FtB, and there are some I never read, mostly bc they’re too US centric and therefore of little interest to me.
    And occasionally I miss interesting posts because I find the main page not to my liking. I’m glad we have the “recent post” feature again

    1. 12.1

      I have a huge complaint with the revamped main page format, and that is, less prolific posters get buried by the more prolific ones. I’d never see a post from Black Skeptics if I didn’t deliberately go straight to their blog looking for new material, for example. Ditto for other not frequently updated yet still very important blogs. I consider this a problem.

  10. AMM

    Onamission5 @10

    I have a huge complaint with the revamped main page format, and that is, less prolific posters get buried by the more prolific ones.

    That’s one of my biggest complaints about the new format, too. I really wish the FtB cabal would bring back the old front page, because:

    a. you had, for each blog, the latest post (or two?) Since some of my favorite blogs (such as this one) update infrequently (by FtB standards), I could quickly see if they had anything new.
    b. each blog had a little banner which (if the blogger did it right) gave you some idea of what the blog was about, in case you forgot.

  11. 14

    I have to agree with AlexanderZ. Ed and PZ post more often and put the first few sentences on the main page with a “Read More” link. It makes better use of space and it’s easier to scroll down to the next entry if one doesn’t interest you.

    I’d like to see more of that on other blogs. As for reading other blogs, there’s not much cross-promotion. There’s a list of blog titles down the left side but that’s it AFAIK. Where is there a page listing all the bloggers with a short description of who they are and what they tend to cover? I only found this blog because I was randomly checking out other FTBs and you were in the “B”s.

    Even though it would put a slight burden on others, if the more popular bloggers would occasionally post “Hey [fill in the blank] posted a great article about [subject].” it might expand readership.

    One thing I liked about Ed is that he covered the news. If someone here is picking up where he left out, I’d like to know so I could follow them as well.

    Oh, and what does that broom icon on Comeradde’s blog mean? I assume he’s not bragging about sweeping his kitchen floor.

    1. 14.1

      Even though it would put a slight burden on others, if the more popular bloggers would occasionally post “Hey [fill in the blank] posted a great article about [subject].” it might expand readership.

      I think PZ Myers (?) used to do that with semi-regular “round FTB / FTB roundups” blog posts full of links and one or two sentence summaries of posts – but I haven’t seen any of those for quite a while. It’s a good idea and something that I suggest a few other bloggers here especially the more popular ones could do to help the lesser known ones.

      @11.AMM. Agreed.

      PS. I seen to keep getting a “preview error” message on FTB for some reason. Anyone else having this issue?

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