Responding now to Al’s comment to my first post. Al writes that it “[s]eems like a few years back when Hurt and Yin wrote that article that there were a series of pieces of how blogs were changing scholarship. Two points here. First, now when people talk about how blogs are changing scholarship they did it ... on blogs (or in an electronic companion of a journal). Second, I'm wondering if it's time for some more in-depth re-assessment of what blogs are doing (if anything) to legal scholarship. I'd be interested in your thoughts on this.” I’m not sure if anyone else is interested in my thoughts on this question, but I’m going to share them anyway, after the jump. Be warned, though: what follows is a highly idiosyncratic, first-person take on the question, which may bore the unprepared.
First, two caveats. I know this topic – like virtually every other topic – has been amply debated in years past. I have only been an active blog reader for about five years: anything written before I became aware of law blogs generally – and, if I’m honest, the vast majority of everything written after that time – is a mystery to me, and thus my comments here are likely duplicative of those already made by others with much more experience as both bloggers and legal scholars generally. And second, I am a blog reader, really, not a blog writer. While the points I make below apply in part to writing and reading alike, what follows necessarily reflects my bias as a reader. I’ll leave thoughts about the similarities and differences between the writing of blog posts and scholarship to those actively engaged in both.
My own view, subject to those caveats, is that blogging and legal scholarship serve quite distinct purposes, and that efforts to make the two converge don’t strike me as very promising.
As a reader of both scholarship and blogs, I read for information. Obviously. So too with reading the cereal box. And the blogs I follow – law, finance/economics, history, current events, and various intersections between and among those topics – do overlap substantively with the scholarly books and articles that I read. But the overlap ends (almost, as you’ll see) at that level of generality. I read scholarship as part of a vocation. When I sit down with a well-written and well-researched book or article, I take time to read notes and situate what I am learning in the broader context the author has provided for me. The reading is slower and more didactic. By the end, I expect to know the primary research, context, and authors’ conclusions well enough to know whether and how the work will help me in my own projects. As a beginner, I also expect that I will have learned, osmotically, a bit about the scholar’s craft. But in all cases, reading scholarship is work, albeit an extremely pleasant form.
Blog reading, with one exception, is not work. I read blogs for at least four reasons, some of which overlap. First, blogs provide a basic search function, locating primary sources of both academic and non-academic interest. Taking a quick look at my RSS feed, I’d say that about 60% of the blogs I read serve this purpose. Blogs are an excellent mechanism to extend one’s natural reach into the world’s stream of constantly updated information. This is true in both the “real” and academic worlds. In the real world, while I read newspapers and other web-based news sources like Pro Publica or Politico, bloggers of all stripes stay attuned to a wider array of matters than I can access in any given day. Here, I read almost nothing in the blogosphere that requires original reporting (Felix Salmon’s blog at Reuters is a partial exception): it is all synthetic. In the academic world, bloggers I follow not infrequently highlight recent scholarship. I would guess that about a third of the newly published books that I read and maybe a quarter of law review articles come to my attention through blog posts, with Concurring Opinions’s excellent practice of posting recent LRs’ hyperlinked tables of contents providing significant grist for this mill. To be sure, as inferred by the just-cited estimates, I find most of my original sources on my own, or through the bibliographies of other scholars’ work. And frankly, I wish academic bloggers would highlight their own and others’ work more often: I’m quite lazy, and hearing about the work that people whose opinions I have come to respect via blogging are reading and writing is always tremendously valuable. It also saves time as I try to keep abreast of scholarly developments in my field, particularly during these years of clerking and non-law academia when I don’t get the benefit of full-time participation in the academic life of a law school. Which is all to say, blogs provide a valuable search service in locating the real documents that I, as a budding scholar, need to read.
Second, I read blogs because of some aspect of the individual blogger’s identity, ideology, or writing style makes her contribution to present conversations valuable in some way. This kind of reading has almost nothing to do with legal scholarship, and probably constitutes about 20% of my blog-reading. The contribution may come because the blogger has a particularly elegant or entertaining writing style, or is particularly wise or insightful. It also includes those bloggers who have an ideological certainty about the world that I don’t share, but that I still find useful to understand beyond the caricature of those perspectives that I can create on my own.
Third, I read blogs to procrastinate, much as I read through Facebook status updates or scan the front page of the New York Times for the tenth time in a day. My brain is tired, I lack the motivation to really commit to the next item on the agenda, and so I visit Google Reader to see if anything new can facilitate, e.g., my putting off brushing my teeth. I’d say procrastinatory blog reading constitutes another 10% of my blog time, but 95% of the blogs that I read.
Only the fourth kind of blog reading compares to the work I associate with reading scholarship. Rarely, one of the other blogs I regularly read will post a something significant – well researched, full of hyperlinks to the sources supporting assertions, and making arguments or presenting evidence that I find original and scholarly. When I find such a post, I almost always “star” it and come back to it when I am not procrastinating or am otherwise ready to do the work needed to understand and assimilate the ideas that the blogger presents.
In answer, then, to Al’s original question, I think reading blogs has very, very little to do with the work of scholarship, other than as a very useful search and broadcast function. That’s not to say, of course, that blogging serves a lesser purpose. Just a different one.
There’s more to say about this activity that takes up a not insignificant amount of my week, but I’ll end it there. I’m curious, though: Why do Faculty Lounge readers read blogs? For reasons other than those mentioned? And if so, for reasons that feel more like the work of reading scholarship?