Saturday, April 18, 2015
An Appreciation of Legal Blogging (and Twitter!)
Last month, I had the pleasure of being a guest blogger here. This month, I have read with interest and surprise the recent lamentations of legal blogging posted by some of the founders and earliest adopters of the medium. I was particularly affected by Paul Horowitz’s post on PrawfsBlawg. His comments on anonymous commenters seem particularly thoughtful and apt. On the other hand, I felt myself defending (in my own head) blogging and Twitter culture while reading his criticisms.
As a junior scholar, I have found the opportunity to read PrawfsBlawg immensely gratifying and educational. I write and think about criminal justice. I am willing (if not happy) to admit that the volume of dense and rigorous scholarship I want to and must consume in order to write my own articles essentially prevents me from reading important, rigorous, and dense scholarship in other areas – first amendment law, education law, and international law, just to name a few.
But, while I can’t find the time to read 25,000 words about, say, the right to privacy versus the first amendment right to expression, I can certainly read and digest Amy Landers’ recent post about a New York Appellate court’s dismissal of a complaint against a photographer for invading the privacy of children when he shoots “from the shadows of [his] home into theirs.” I might even click on the hyperlink she provided and read the decision.
And, I can read Rick Hills’ post about whether it is “legitimate for an academic institution or individual to compromise academic freedom in order to gain access to a population otherwise controlled by an authoritarian regime.” He is writing from China! Where he is teaching as we speak. His reflections may not have the rigour of his law review scholarship, but they have the contemporary feel of a scholar struggling with immediate and increasingly germane legal and pedagogical issues. His blogging also helps me understand not only what it means to be an academic in a country that does not prize freedom of expression, but also what it might mean to be a Chinese student at an American law school. It reminds me to be more tolerant and understanding of my own students’ cultural backgrounds: how what I say may impact them or how the way I interpret their work or classroom behavior may be a result of my own cultural myopia.
Twitter has proven to be even more powerful for me as a reader. I follow dozens of law professors throughout the country. These scholars are constantly thinking about and working on critical and complicated issues, some of which I am also trying to work through in my own head/scholarship. Of course, 140 characters is not enough to begin to understand a complex legal issue, but these tweets are often short bursts of carefully thought out opinions by people whose work in longer-form I respect immensely. And I can ingest hundreds of these thoughts a day. I do maintain a healthy skepticism that these opinions are as clear or pat as they appear on Twitter, but I am confident in my own, and in any legal academic's, ability to read tweets and click on links with a grain (or maybe a shaker) of salt.
Moreover, Twitter is a powerful research tool. I am writing and thinking about policing and prosecuting the police. I would have found my way to Harvard Law Review Forum’s issue on police reform regardless of Twitter. But, thanks to Walter Katz (@walterwkatz), Elizabeth Joh (@Elizabeth_Joh), and Seth Stoughton (@PoliceLawProf), I got there faster, really fast.
I have no idea whether my own blogging is helpful, hurtful, or completely irrelevant to my desired career as legal academic. It’s hard to figure out what received wisdom about writing, self promotion, networking, etc... to follow because it is not (to say the least) uniform. This post is about being a consumer, not a creator of social media content. And, ironically, I wouldn’t have thought to write an appreciation of blogging were it not for the thoughtful critiques of the medium that have appeared on this site in the last few weeks.
Dan Markel ran a colloquium in New York for criminal law theory scholars (that continues thanks to his co-director Mike Cahill). He was immediately welcoming to me and to my colleagues, who were literally months out of practice when we first attended. While those meetings terrified me, they also taught me so much about what it means to be a scholar, to think critically, and to accept criticism gracefully and appreciatively, not to mention exposing me to work by other terrific scholars. His gracious acceptance of those just entering the academy is reflected in this blog, which provides access to the critical thoughts, musings, and serious work of both established legal scholars and those just starting their academic career. I am really grateful that this site and other legal blogs (and Twitter!) exist.