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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Topical versus generalist blogging

An aside in Doug Berman's post notes that bloggers face the question of how topical to keep their blogs. This is a question that I've thought about somewhat over time. Doug has promised a follow-up, and I don't want to sandbag him on the topic. But I'd like to offer a few of my own observations, which are I think general enough not to preempt further discussion. My own observation is that the legal blogosphere tends to demonstrate that there is no right answer to the question "how topical should I be?"

On the one hand are the strictly topical law blogs. These include How Appealing, Sentencing Law and Policy, and most members of the Paul Caron Legal Blog Empire (name lifted from Leiter). Indeed, the Caron Empire includes an explicit rule of topicality:

What Law Professor Blogs Are Not Our blogs are not a collection of personal ruminations about the Presidential campaign, the war in Iraq, or what the editor had for dinner last night. Neither do our editors offer their personal views on every policy issue in the news or every new court decision. We leave that terrain to the many existing blogs with that mission. Instead, our editors focus their efforts, in both the permanent resources & links and daily news & information, on the scholarly and teaching needs of law professors. Our hope is that law professors will visit the Law Professor Blog in their area (or areas) as part of their daily routine.

On the other side of the topicality spectrum are generalist blogs like Conglomerate, Ribstein, Bainbridge, Volokh, Leiter, and Instapundit. Each of these includes significant doses of off-topic posts -- Gordon Smith posts about cheese or about the Tour de France, Christine Hurt posts about Fantasy Football, Stephen Bainbridge talks about wine, Brian Leiter about politics and poetry, Larry Ribstein about films, and so forth.

The evidence, such as it is, suggests that both models can work pretty well. I enjoy reading many strictly topical blogs, like CrimProf and Sentencing Law and Policy. I also enjoy reading Conglomerate and Volokh and so forth.

I do think that a certain amount of willingness to go off-topic can help establish a blog's identity. We can see this at work in the corporate-law blogosphere. Gordon Smith is the corporate law scholar who likes cheese; Stephen Bainbridge is the corporate law scholar who likes wine; Larry Ribstein is the corporate law scholar who likes movies. Gordon writes about Mormonism and Bainbridge about Catholicism, and Ribstein occasionally about Judaism. The personal elements in the three blogs help them to establish unique identities.

But there is a real danger in going too far down that path. There is a massive universe of personal blogs out in the ether. If the off-topic content on a law blog crosses some threshold -- I don't have any numerical tests, it's purely an "I know it when I see it" thing -- then the law blog may just turn into another blog full of personal ramblings. And in that case, the inclusion of off-topic posts probably ceases to be a helpful branding tool and becomes a serious branding liability.

Posted by Kaimi Wenger on August 2, 2005 at 04:37 PM in Blogging, Kaimi Wenger | Permalink

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Douglas Berman asks:How might we improve blogs as an academic medium for law professors? With this question, I mean to pick up some themes that Ron Wright raised in this recent post about blogs in the academy. Ron suggested, inter [Read More]

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» Bloggers Just Wanna Have Fun from ProfessorBainbridge.com
Douglas Berman asks:How might we improve blogs as an academic medium for law professors? With this question, I mean to pick up some themes that Ron Wright raised in this recent post about blogs in the academy. Ron suggested, inter [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 2, 2005 7:15:34 PM

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Hmm... How to distinguish between a "law blog" and a "blog by a lawyer"...

I think two ways are already in use -

1. Masthead statement ("a blog [mostly] about the law" or "a blog about my views of the law and other things")
2. Visitors/commentors: is a significan number (perhaps 15%) also in a legal profession?

Posted by: John Anderson | Aug 2, 2005 5:25:46 PM

Really good post. Mostly on topic too.

Posted by: Dave Hoffman | Aug 3, 2005 1:45:10 AM

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