Digest survey digested, plus changes afoot at the Ethicurean

Greetings everyone, and a big shout-out to the 199 people who took the Digest survey (now closed). You provided us with a wealth of useful feedback. A summary of the highlights:

  • 45.2% read every Digest; 45.7% read it a few times a week.
  • 72% read as much of it as you have time; 10% hang on every pun to the bitter end
  • 55% don't focus on one section, saying they "need to read it all"
  • Just 8 people thought our puns are sometimes lame/annoying, or that the summaries were too long
  • 63.9% of you would not be willing to pay for the Digest
  • 51.7% said you would prefer it to be daily again
  • 86.1% do not want us to switch to News-only links
  • Response was divided on the "lighter links only on weekends" option

You also gave us some really great detailed comments in the fill-in-the-blank sections. I've dropped in a sample after the jump, at the end of this post.

New team members

So, as some of you suspected, we're considering making some changes. While I started this blog last year with Man of La Muncha, Omniwhore, Butter Bitch, Corn Maven, and Miss Steak, all of them have, for entirely valid reasons, had to step out of the Ethicurean kitchen for the last several months. Several of them have mentioned they hope to have time to blog again soon, which I'm thrilled about, as I've missed them too.

Fortunately, Nosher of the North and Mental Masala have proved able new contributors, and I'm pleased to announce that two previous guest posters, Jillian in Australia and Elanor, a recent transplant to Berkeley from Boston, are joining the team. Starting now, we're transitioning away from the "noms du blog." Their original point was to hide our identities from our employers, but I'm starting to feel a little silly as "Dairy Queen" — given my interest in hog farming, I really should have called myself "Big Pig" — and I want contributors to get appropriate credit, as I can't give them much else at the moment.

Speaking of, we'd love to widen our lens with additional contributors living outside the U.S. West Coast. If any of you already blog about food politics or SOLE food issues in the Midwest, South, or East or internationally, and would like to cross-post occasionally for a wider audience, or if you can't be bothered with blogging for yourself but want to write for us, please drop me a line. Our rule to date has been that you guest-post three times with me as your editor, and then we discuss your joining the team.


In order to continue to justify the time and money spent on the Ethicurean — just editing each Digest takes me about three to six hours — and to be able eventually to compensate contributors, I have decided that we're going to try taking ads and sponsorships. But not ads for food. That would just be too problematic, and I don't ever want to compromise our credibility, or the perception of our credibility, which is basically the same thing. Our traffic is pretty respectable, so I'm hoping we can attract ads for "green living" and "eco home"-type stuff like you see on Treehugger. Believe me, I hate ads as much or more than you do, and I will do my best to ensure they do not interfere with reading the site.

In order to take ads, we need to redesign the Ethicurean. The "look and feel" will not change dramatically — same Ethicurean pig, same colors, just a different layout: the Digest links will be in a separate column from the "feature-y" posts, and will have its own RSS feed, and there will be a column for ads. I am currently seeking to hire someone ASAP who knows both WordPress and PHP really well to design some templates from scratch. If that describes you, and you can work on this in the next few weeks, email me links to sample sites you've built and I'll describe what I want, then we can discuss rates. I don't have a huge bank account budget, but I don't believe people should work for free. (Except me, I guess.)

That's all for now. Thanks again for making writing for this blog such a fun and rewarding experience for the past year.

— Bonnie

Some of the Digest survey comments we particularly enjoyed or found useful.

Under "criticisms":

"I find the digests overwhelming these days - so much information! so many links and parts! Sometimes I think the digests swallow up the regular blog posts. Can the digest be a scroll thing at the side, like an accompanying column, so that the focus is back on the blog?" (Answer: yes! See above.)

"I'm not a hater - no one should apologize for trying to be funny" (Thanks!)

"More info the better! If you're getting comments that there's too much info or that the pieces are too long, please ignore them. I hunger for all this info, and those folks could just, you know, not read everything." (Can you talk to this guy below?)

"Sometimes the format can be overwhelming -- it's great to have so much information, but it can be hard to figure out what to read. It's like that study they did where they found people were much more likely to buy jam when they were presented with only one brand than they were when presented with 15 brands. With so many to choose from, they got overwhelmed and tuned out." (We do fear that.)

What you like about the Digest:

"Good links--stuff I'm not finding on my own. I like the sense of humor and lack of pompousness. Some foodie types are a bit condescending, snobby, etc., not so of the Digest people." (Hell no.)

"Thank you for the excellent farm bill coverage. I'd read the blog occasionally before and rediscovered it recently when getting up to speed on the farm bill. Please keep up the coverage, this is blogging at its finest." (If only we had a clue what we were talking about.)

"The commentary. The puns (man you guys are educated. I thought the time you made the Planck's constant pun, you really were covering an article on Planck's constant ... because _who_ makes a pun about Planck's constant. aside from me, I mean)." (E-mail me and tell me who you are. When we have t-shirts, I am sending you one!)

"Helps me stay on top of food-related news I may have missed in my own searches, and I like your commentary in the summaries! Anyone can just put out a list news stories, but it means a lot more (I think) when someone takes the time to put the stories into perspective a little and add a bit of personal opinion." (Opinions, we got plenty of.)

"Although it's a subject very dear to my heart, I max out fairly quickly on online culinary material (I guess I'd rather spend my time eating). But Ethicurean stands out: Your survey of food news is so well selected and palatably presented that yours is the only food site I look at on a daily, or nearly daily, basis. I appreciate your diligence, and I wouldn't change a thing." (Awwww...!)

Closing comments:

"I am a religious reader of your blog and appreciate everything you do. I may be different from your average reader in that I do NOT read other blogs, except that from time to time I check in on some of the blogs you have linked to. One thing I like about the Ethicurian is that it seems to be written for regular people, as opposed to other blogs that are obviously written for other bloggers! Your blog is written like an online newspaper -- serious and scrupulously researched but sprinkled with humor to help readers digest some of the more depressing news. I guess that is what keeps me coming back. It must be the journalistic background of some of the writers that keeps the Ethicurean's ship righted. Keep writing the blog in whatever way, shape or form and I will keep reading it." (Blushing — wait, is that you again Mom?)"I know it's time consuming to create the Digest, but I really like it. Hey -- I just had dental surgery 3 hours ago under general anaesthetic, and here I am reading it. Must be one of my favorites :-D" (OK, that's scary!)

"I enjoy your site and have made it a regular read. Keeping it light hearted while genuinely content driven works well for me. As Bob weir and the Grateful Dead said, " I may be going to hell in a bucket, but at least I'm enjoying the ride!"" (We couldn't agree more.)

"Without the digest, this is, pardon the expression, just a blog. And as brilliant as many of you are, I already know about the personal experience of trying to eat ethically. What I don't have is time to cull through news sources much on my own, and your commentary is appreciated." (Noted.)

"Actually, the digest is not my favorite part. I like the articles better. And I prefer the digest with the longer description/commentary than the ones with just a title." (Noted as well.)

"I really like your site and it has become a valuable part of my day. Thanks so much for all of the work you do to keep it going! Didn't want to sound too harsh about the local stuff, but it just gets annoying. Maybe you could put it on a separate site for those who want to read more about it." (see above.)

"Dearest Miss DQ: You know, I knew it was too good to be true. I'm getting visions of Web Van the defunct grocery delivery and the old MotherNature.com. I wish I could make money fall from the sky for you so you could keep doing this forever. The best I can offer is to lower your expenses with white trash trailer spot number two in front of the old homestead here. Don't agonize over the blog if it's killing you to produce it. Just because it's brilliant doesn't mean you have to do it forever. I've checked out all your blog links but I haven't read any of them more than once. I read yours only. It's that much better than the rest. I have to go now and pick some blackberries before they all rot. Never enough time. You are coming to visit some day, aren't you?" (Linda, you bet.)

"What happened to Omniwhore? I miss her posts." (Me too. She's busy being preggers, but she'll be back I hope.)

"Haven't you guys got enough to think about without going through all this? I hope this process isn't taking away from your news-gleaning time." (Now that you mention it...)

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