Monday, April 18, 2016
Is Blogging Worth It? (Jr. Law Prawfs FAQ)
The Junior Law Prawfs FAQ series enters its third week. The first week focused on publishing legal scholarship (responses, book reviews, and online law review essays). The second week turned to interacting with peers in one's field, including promoting new scholarship, commenting on others' draft scholarship, and increasing in-person scholarly interactions. This week's line of questions builds on last week's, but concerns interacting within one's field more generally (not just limited to other scholars in the field).
Today's FAQ asks a very common question: Especially as a junior scholar, is blogging worth it?
To focus our crowdsourcing, let's put a couple things to one side. First, follow the cardinal Ask Your Colleagues rule, especially pretenure as your tenure-voting colleagues will no doubt have strong feelings on whether they feel blogging is a worthwhile pretenure endeavor. Second, make sure your tenure house is in order. I see blogging as one means to help one become a national (or international) voice in one's field, but it's not a substitute for the traditional scholarship required for promotion and tenure (at least not at any school I know). So this FAQ assumes the junior scholar can blog on top of doing the things required for tenure.
With those assumptions in mind, the next set of questions concern what type of blogging and what benefits one hopes to secure. Let's start with the type of blogging, as I think that changes the cost-benefit analysis. Here I'm going to define blogging more broadly than perhaps the ordinary, everyday meaning:
(1) Generalist Law Nerd Blogging: Perhaps we should call this category the first wave of legal blogging? In this category I include any of the generalist law blogs (Prawfs, Concurring Opinions, Faculty Lounge, Volokh Conspiracy, etc.), where a collection of legal scholars blog about nerdy law and policy topics that may interest them. To be sure, some blog more exclusively on their subject matters, but the blogs themselves seem more general, with the target audience being other legal scholars and law nerds.
(2) Field-Specific, Law Professor Blogging: Here think Law Professor Blogs Network. These blogs have a subject-matter focus, yet the bloggers are generally still legal scholars. The audience, though, may be more than just other legal scholars and may include policymakers, advocates, and others interested in the field. Some of these blogs are team efforts, whereas others -- Doug Berman, Paul Caron, and Rick Hasen come immediately to mind -- are mainly solo endeavors. Some of these blogs attempt to cover everything that's happening in that field (again, see, for example, Berman, Caron, and Hasen), whereas others cover topics that are of most interest to the bloggers (and their audience).
(3) Field-Specific, Yet Practitioner-Oriented Blogging: A variant of the prior category, these blogs are similarly focused on one legal field, but their audience is perhaps as much if not more policymakers and practitioners, as it is other legal scholars and law nerds. This is at least the goal of the Notice and Comment blog, where I've regularly blogged since Fall 2014. The Yale Journal on Regulation student editors founded the blog, and we became the official administrative law blog in the Law Professor Blogs Network about a year later. More recently, the ABA Section of Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice joined as a co-partner to expand our government and practitioner audiences (and bloggers). The blog's mission is definitely to reach policymaking, government, and practitioner audiences.
(4) Beyond Blogging: As traditional media outlets have been forced to evolve (perhaps in part in response to blogging), opportunities to write regularly for more traditional media outlets seem to be on the rise. Volokh Conspiracy's migration to the Washington Post is one example of that trend. But individual law professors have also been deeply involved, with Garret Epps, Noah Feldman, Peter Shane, Steven Davidoff Solomon, and Cass Sustein coming immediately to mind. These authors write regularly for the Atlantic, Bloomberg View, Huffington Post, and the New York Times, among others, as opposed to at law blogs.
My guess is that the costs and benefits will vary significantly depending on the type of blogging one is interested in doing, and of course what one hopes to get out of it. I can only speak from my own personal experience. As I mentioned above, I started blogging at the Yale Journal on Regulation back in Fall 2014. The advice I received from many regular (and retired) bloggers was to start with a narrow focus, as blogging takes up a lot of time and can end up swallowing time otherwise dedicated for my own research.
Inspired by Jotwell, Lisa Larrimore Ouellette's Written Description Blog, and Larry Solum's Legal Theory Blog, I decided my initial experiment would be the AdLaw Bridge Series, in which I would highlight one piece of administrative law scholarship each week in an attempt to bridge the gap between the theory and practice of administrative law. I was already reading all of these articles, and oftentimes providing comments to the authors, so I thought the additional work of coming up with a few hundred words about the piece wouldn't be too overwhelming.
As I got more comfortable with doing the AdLaw Bridge Series, I'd sprinkle in a couple substantive posts of my own each month, covering current administrative law cases and topics. For instance, I did two fun posts on King v. Burwell (within hours of the opinion being issued), and more recently one in response to Tyler Cowen on Trump as Regulator-in-Chief. We've also done a number of online symposia on various topics, and I do a monthly SSRN adlaw scholarship top-10 list. I of course also blog about my own scholarship -- at the idea-generating stage, at the comment-soliciting stage, and at publication.
I definitely underestimated the costs of blogging regularly, but fortunately I also undervalued the benefits. Blogging regularly is therapeutic, as it keeps me more engaged with ideas and arguments in my field, supporting my own research and teaching. Blogging about articles makes me read them a bit more closely, and obviously has helped me get to know scholars in my field. Hopefully readers have also found them useful. If one enjoys talking with reporters or consulting with policymakers, the number of calls I receive from both groups has gone up considerably since I started blogging, and many of those individuals reference blog posts of mine. SSRN downloads shot through the roof once I started blogging, and I hope that means that scholars, government officials, and practitioners are reading and thinking about my scholarship.
In sum, my own experience is that there are significant costs and benefits to blogging, but at least for me it has had a large positive net value and complements well my research agenda. It's particularly helpful for someone like me who hopes that federal agency officials and administrative law practitioners will read and incorporate my scholarship.
I'm curious to hear others' perspectives on blogging regularly -- both as to the cost-benefit analysis generally and as to cost-effective ways to blog. If you've already blogged about that elsewhere, please do include the link(s) in the comments so that others can find them here.
I agree with everything you experienced and described in the third-to-last paragraph. I'll add a few more points. First, writing is a muscle, so we should take every opportunity to exercise it. Second, blogging (especially in a general-interest forum, such as this one) offers a chance to write about some things that are of interest but beyond our scholarly focus and that we might not be inclined to pursue in a full scholarly treatment or that are too discrete for that treatment. Third, blogging can lead directly to scholarship. By my count, I have written articles or books on five different subjects that I initially hashed out here. It makes the writing process public (my article-length ideas morphed from what I first wrote here), but it functions well as an early draft.
To your list, I also would add SCOTUSBlog, which relies on law professors to cover some arguments and cases, which has been a great experience.
And I do like the idea of a monthly or weekly article-spotlight post. It might be a good way to clear my desktop of SSRN downloads . . .
Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Apr 18, 2016 5:21:30 PM
1. Another place for "Field-Specific, Yet Practitioner-Oriented Blogging" is SCOTUSBlog, which tends to have a group of academics blogging on particular areas in their field of expertise. I've been surprised and pleased by how many practitioners seem to find those posts helpful.
2. In re: "The advice I received from many regular (and retired) bloggers was to start with a narrow focus, as blogging takes up a lot of time and can end up swallowing time otherwise dedicated for my own research." This is definitely an area where individual mileage can vary -- in my various blogging stints I've found that an open-ended blogging commission can take *less* time, because one can just blog about whatever happens to be on one's mind without worrying about tailoring a post to a specific substantive or stylistic niche.
This makes me suspect that the advisability blogging, even more than most of aspects of this series, is going to turn heavily on personal tastes and abilities. Blogging is certainly not *so* important as to be worth a person's spending time on it even if they find it unpleasant and time-consuming.
Posted by: William Baude | Apr 18, 2016 5:27:15 PM
One thing I'd add is that the decision to blog may be influenced by the comment culture at the intended blog site. On many academic law blogs, that culture has changed (for the worse, IMHO) in the last few years. Anecdotally, I observe that some good blogging by women has moved out of the public blogosphere onto Facebook, etc. because of increased harassment. The Guardian had a thought-provoking article here: goo.gl/6DkPxJ
Posted by: Bridget Crawford | Apr 18, 2016 7:20:06 PM
My thoughts on legal blogging generally, which are more or less applicable to junior prof blogging: http://prawfsblawg.blogs.com/prawfsblawg/2015/04/legal-academic-blogging-and-the-influencecredit-distinction.html
Posted by: Orin Kerr | Apr 19, 2016 2:48:51 AM
I penned my thoughts about blogging generally in 2007 as "The Plural of 'Anecdote' is 'Blog'" - http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2715780 .
I don't think my views have changed very much since then, except that Jotwell turned out even better than I hoped.
Posted by: Michael Froomkin | Apr 19, 2016 6:18:05 PM