Blogging Do’s and Don’ts

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The panel this morning at the “Women Rethinking Equality” meeting is “Women as Scholars.”  I have been asked to speak about blogging as a venue for scholarly work, and the particular challenges that law professor bloggers may face.  I’ve made a list of “Ten Do’s and Don’ts of Blogging,” for any law professor who has ever thought about blogging and wondered whether it is a good idea.  Apologies to Glamour magazine for reliance on its instructive trope.

1.  Don’t think that blogging “counts” as scholarly writing. I am the Research Dean at my home institution, and try to take a very catholic view of what is scholarship, but blogging decidedly is not scholarship, in the sense that I would not advise any untenured person to think that blogging can substitute for a scholarly article.  Blogging can be a great contribution to scholarly and popular debates.  It is a way of making your work and ideas visible to a far larger audience than most legal scholarship can reach.  But blogging is not what the majority of legal academics today would consider scholarship.  That may change in the future.

2.  That being said, DO blog if you have something to say. You don’t need to start a blog or come up with yet another subject-matter specialty blog.   Many, many of the law professor blogs out there are glad to have guest bloggers.  Contribute a guest post or two and see how you like blogging.  Write the administrators of the blog that you think would be a good fit.  Attach a proposed blog post.  Ask if the administrator will post it.  Very often, the answer will be yes.  Bloggers love company.  Content is king.  If you contribute content, that lightens the load of the blog administrators.

Once you do contribute content, monitor your internal responses.  Does it feel like one more pressure from your “to-do” list, and are you anxiously waiting for comments, or does it feel exciting, innovative, and purposeful to you?  If blogging raises your anxiety level, don’t do it.

3. Do blog with a purpose. Ann Bartow started the Feminist Law Professors blog over 5 years ago.  She had a clear idea of the blog’s purpose.  She wanted to create a feminist community among law professors across subject-matters, a community and a blog that was open to anyone who was willing to list his or her name in the blogroll as a “self-identified feminist,” whatever that means to the individual.  That list is a visible way of signaling to students, colleagues, and the outside world that there is a vibrant intellectual community of legal scholars who consider gender an important issue, regardless of what each person’s teaching or scholarship focus may be.

4.  Don’t blog because someone else asks you to. If a senior colleague asks you to start a blog with them, that’s often code for, “Will you do all the work and I can take some of the credit?”  You answer should be, “I’d like to get my firm footing with my traditional legal scholarship first.”

5.  Don’t blog because you think you should. Blog because it increases your visibility as a thinker and as a member of the academic community.  Blog because you want to contribute to national conversations, but are resource-constrained and unable to attend as many conferences as you’d like.  Blog because it is a way of building the conversations – and career – that you want.

6.  Do be aware that blogging can have associated personal costs. The blogosphere can be a source of some negative personal attention, especially for women who write about gender.  Try to keep your tone civil, and assume good intentions on the part of interlocutors.  But sometimes the blogosphere can get ugly.

7.  Do be aware that blogging has associated professional benefits. I think blogging is one of the easiest ways for a person at a non-elite school to develop a national reputation.  That being said, I’m not sure that blogging itself is a way to climb the academic ladder.  Mobility is facilitated by great law review articles, scholarly books, and personal connections, among other factors.  Indeed, at some schools, too much blogging might be considered a lack of commitment to in-depth thinking.  As of right  now in the legal academy, blogging is no substitute for traditional scholarship.

8.  Don’t psych yourself out. Not every blog post has to be profound reflection on a topic of contemporary legal significance.  I taught a case in Federal Income Tax and realized that one of the parties’ homes was very close to where I grew up.  Whether the home was a place of business was one of the issues in the case.  I went on line, found a picture of that particular taxpayer’s former home (more than 50 years had passed since the case had been decided and the taxpayer no longer lived there).  I posted it with some reflections on the neighborhood.  Blog posts can be contributions to your electronic “ideas” file.  If you see an article that interests you, a news story that might fit into your research, a commercial or advertisement or something that catches your eye, consider that fodder for a blog post.  Not every post has to be profound.

9.  Do use blogging as an opportunity to be kind. This is probably not high on the list of most bloggers’ priorities, but it is on mine.  Blogging presents many opportunities to highlight the work of others, even as you are blogging to serve your own purposes.  Recognize someone else’s accomplishments or ideas.  Promote the work of students, colleagues, programs, groups that engaged with the world.  Women in particular tend not to be self-promoting.  Be kind to yourself and promote your own work, too.

10.  Don’t underestimate the power of a blog. Own your power. [updated to reflect what I actually said in the session.] A blogger is in a position of great vulnerability, but she or he also is in a position of great power.  Those who have power do not always remember what it is like not to have it.  I admit a special disappointment that I feel when women who are in positions of power either claim that they don’t have it, or use it to reproduce hierarchies over other women in particular.  We had a micro-experience of that with the initial organization of this morning’s panel.  Some women were told they would have less time to speak than the others.  That was rectified ultimately, but not without some personal costs to those who were not initially given equal time.

So my final “do” boils down to this.  Blogging is a powerful platform, and, if you do blog, do use the platform to help other women, not to the exclusion of men, but as part of a deep commitment to not just “rethinking equality,” but to doing something concrete, however small, to achieve it.

-Bridget Crawford

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