As I’ve written before, blogging-as-advertising is a bad idea:
Blogging is a pie eating contest in which the prize is: more pie. If you write well, you will get readers who will want you to write more. You will be contacted by those who run blogs, publish magazines and books, host radio shows, or organize CLEs with offers for you to contribute to those forums with your thoughts. Does that interest you, even though most of those pay nothing at all? If so, great! Blogging may be for you. I find contributions to other forums one of the more rewarding parts of my practice, but don’t kid yourself that such is the path to fame and riches. It’s just more pie, so you better like pie to start with.
That said, I don’t really care if there’s a sea of marketing blogs out there, since readers can choose to follow the serious blogs:
For the blogs that are worth reading, the content has already been curated by the bloggers. Although it often makes sense to follow filtering sites that whittle down thousands of mass media stories into the handful likely to interest some particular variety of readers, the same analysis doesn’t apply to blogs like Gregory’s, John’s, and Joshua’s. Once you, dear reader, have chosen to read a blog at that level of specialization and that level of professional editing — i.e., the professional is the one deciding on the content — either you’re interested or you’re not, and if you’re interested, you’re interested enough to at least skim each post’s title to see if you want to read more. To put it another way, I don’t want less of the blogs I like: I like how they bring to my attention cases and issues that I wasn’t even looking for, but which I can use.
But the argument keeps coming up: the blawgosphere is dying.
For the prosecution:
- The Blawgosphere Is Alive (If you’re not too picky)
- "The influx of add-nothing marketers and their incessant commercialization of every facet of the legal blogosphere marked — for me at least — the end of the era in which I joined."
For the defense:
To get some perspective on this debate, let’s peer into another world obsessed with omphaloskepsis and eschatology, the world of the literary novel.
You may not realize it — I certainly did not — but apparently "Fiction has become culturally irrelevant," as Lee Siegel wrote a few months ago in Where Have All the Mailers Gone? (Put aside that most of Norman Mailer’s best work would today be labeled non-fiction.)
Five years ago we knew just who to blame for the death of literature: Jonathan Franzen.
Though [Ben] Marcus’ essay [in the October 2005 issue of Harper’s] extends over 13 pages of small text, at its core is a very simple premise: Contemporary American fiction has lost its innovative edge and its interest in language as art, and Jonathan Franzen is largely, if not exclusively, to blame. In particular, Marcus focuses on Franzen’s 2002 essay "Mr. Difficult," in which Franzen chronicles his growing disenchantment with the novels of William Gaddis, and more generally with the modernist-inspired ideal of "difficult" literature—the belief that "the greatest novels were tricky in their methods, resisted casual reading, and merited sustained study." Writers like Gaddis, Franzen argues, are "Status" authors, who see themselves (again, in the modernist mold) as obligated only to their art, and who for the most part ignore the interests and desires of the reader. With some reluctance, Franzen places himself in an opposing camp: "Contract" authors, who place a high value on the relationship between narrator and reader, who primarily see the novel as a device for social and cultural communication, and who take human life (rather than, say, language or ideas per se) as the ultimate subject of their fiction.
Franzen was caught red-handed for daring to write novels that the unwashed masses can read. You can read Franzen’s offending piece, Mr. Difficult, here.
That, however, was a whole five years ago. Franzen just published his latest work, Freedom, to a sea of positive reviews from all of those folks who tell us what to think about art, an implicit endorsement from President Obama, and even a fawning review by the NYTimes’ chief critic, whom Franzen previously called "the stupidest person in New York City." It’s thus literary enough for us to all pat ourselves on the back when we read it — and the book seems to have made a modest social impact, with, e.g., a mention about the corporate responsibility theme in the book on a Forbes blog and a review in The Financial Times that seems to get the point:
Beyond the personal, Franzen is concerned with freedom’s many meanings within American culture and politics. The Berglunds’ son Joey reacts to his liberal parents by becoming a Republican and working for a private contractor, profiting from the war in Iraq. Joey’s journey into the crude libertarianism and ethical vacuity of the Bush years is set beside Walter’s own attempt to free the planet from the burden of human civilisation, and to free himself from a life-long burden of guilt. Does freedom just mean freedom from something – responsibility (as it is for the self-centred, promiscuous, itinerant Katz), from fear, or pain, or the relentlessness of consumer society? Or is it freedom for something – to build a family, a career, a better world?
The themes of Freedom aren’t anything new. Those of you who have the good fortune of subscribing to The Jackson List received yesterday a copy of a speech that Jackson gave back in 1930 which covered much of the same ground as Freedom, from the tendency of many people to squander their freedom to the inevitable clash between generations:
Your leisure is pretty much without standards. Its greater freedom makes it the greater blessing or the greater menace. In your off hours, you can become scholars or drunkards, athletes or dreamers, you may be prudent or spendthrift, you may add to the accomplishments of your work day or cancel all its gains.
Do not think I am now going to try to scold you into conformity with the dull routine of your elders and hold my own generation up as a model. Far from it. Because you are young rebels, I have hope of your doing better than those of my age have done. Older people fear you will not “settle down”—I am afraid you will. Many fear you will carry disrespect for the conventions too far into your lives—I fear you will drop it. Many fear you will defy “public opinion”—I fear you will be slaves to it. Some deplore that you are headstrong and venturesome. I fear you will be overwhelmed with the commonplace. Some fear your shocking freedom and assertive individualism—I fear you will surrender to a deadly conformity to the herd ideals, mob emotions and gang conduct that characterize your elders. I cheer and connive at your rebellion if you will only rebel at the right things.
In our work, in our business world, during our working hours, your elders are giants. They labor with the might of Hercules. In strength and wisdom, they out-god the ancient gods.
Why, then, should I encourage revolt and cheer you in an attitude of disrespect toward the greatness of your elders?
It is because these same gods are only gods while they stay on their pedestals and their pedestals are their businesses. Off the pedestal and at play, they are lost, pathetic, stupid.
Indeed, the themes are so familiar that reading the novel is somewhat similar to watching James Cameron’s Avatar: you get the sneaking suspicion that you’ve seen all of it before in another form, but Cameron/Franzen have put those timeless themes together in such a masterful way that the message remains compelling. Compelling enough to get the issues back into readers’ consciousness.
But here’s the point: Freedom is just one book. Franzen is just one author. There are a million books published each year. "Culturally irrelevant?" If even one-in-a-thousand are having an impact, that’s a thousand great books published every year. If you can’t find a book worth reading, the problem is that you haven’t found it yet, not that it’s not out there.
Which brings us back to the legal blogosphere. Who cares if there are a thousand, ten thousand, or a million marketing blawgs out there? Don’t read them. The Internet is a big place. Most of it is not going to be to your taste. Some of it will not be to anyone’s taste.
What matters is that there is still a ton of great content out there, content so good that the swing Justice of the United States Supreme Court and the Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court both publicly commend the quality of the blogs that they read.
Let me be clear: I don’t just mean SCOTUSBlog, the primary example used in defense of legal blogs. Sure, SCOTUSblog is great, but I don’t really consider it a blog anymore. I don’t think Tom Goldstein jumped the shark, but he now has so many resources devoted to it – including a full-time reporter – that it bears more resemblance to a professional media outlet (albeit one of far higher quality than most) than to most blogs.
To winnow it down further, I also don’t mean How Appealing, the single best legal news feed available, or team blogs by law professors like Concurring Opinions and The Volokh Conspiracy, both of which are loaded with substantive blogging on real, meaty legal issues. Great reads, but arguably not traditional "blawgs" since there’s so many contributors and so much content, much of it irrelevant to practicing attorneys.
Yet, even if we artificially restrict ourselves to a certain type of blog – i.e., blogs run by lawyers for the purpose of discussing substantive legal issues that affect practicing lawyers – we can still find myriad great blogs.
To prove the point, here’s a quick Google bundle I threw together of blogs that discuss a very narrow subset of issues relevant to practicing attorneys, i.e. complex civil litigation of nationwide applicability, with an absolute minimum of rants, marketing, and tangential remarks. (For my blog, you can get purely substantive commentary by reading my The Law section.)
Listed there, we have, inter alia:
- the go-to lawyers for pharmaceutical device manufacturers;
- the author of a treatise on contract drafting;
- the author of a treatise on the RICO Act;
- the "unofficial reporter" for the Delaware Supreme Court and Delaware Court of Chancery;
Serious lawyers discussing serious issues. Throw in state / foreign litigation, or broaden it beyond complex litigation, or add in ethical issues and the numbers grow rapidly.
Is blawging dead? As far as I can tell, it’s just getting started.