September 7, 2006

"The very idea of an institutional blog is a contradiction in terms."

Writes Terry Teachout. (This comes up in the context of talking about the trouble Lee Siegel got into blogging at The New Republic.)
The best blogs are idiosyncratic, unmediated expressions of an individual sensibility, a notion which tends to make old-media executives squirm, so much so that many print-media publications refuse to let their employees blog.

I think that’s a mistake. In fact, I think editors and reporters should be encouraged to blog independently of the publications for which they work.
I said something similar to that first paragraph in that Yale Law Journal Pocket Part essay I mentioned this morning. The essay is mainly about whether law journals should change in response to the internet, but at one point I talk about institutional blogs, specifically law school faculty blogs:
[You law journal editors don't] need to host a blog to talk about your articles. In fact, it is better if you don’t. Institutionalized blogs tend to be flat and safe.

I have put some effort into starting a faculty blog at my law school, perhaps something like The University of Chicago Law School Faculty Blog. But I have little hope that this project will go well, and I note that the Chicago project has never gained much traction. Since the original spike of attention that greeted the announcement of its existence, the traffic to the site has waned. And there is no bloggish energy to the site, with a post – usually a long one – going up only every few days. I don’t think this is a special Chicago Law School problem, but a predictable consequence of worrying about preserving the dignity of the institution they so conspicuously represent.
To continue to Teachout's train of thought... of course, I'm in favor of lawprofs blogging independently from the law school's website. Law schools shouldn't fret too much about their lawprofs expressing themselves idiosyncratically in our own separate blog spaces. There's a temptation for the law school and the lawprof blogger to try to improve things by making a bigger, better law school website replete with blogs, but it will suck the energy out of the blogging.

Postscript: Speaking of Lee Siegel, I enjoyed watching Bob Wright and Mickey Kaus argue about it on BloggingHeads.

14 comments:

Revenant said...

I don't think there is anything wrong with institutional blogs, so long as their institutional affiliations are known.

If they ultimately prove less useful to readers than independent blogs, they'll just get correspondingly fewer readers.

Ann Althouse said...

The problem I'm highlighting is that people who would blog independently sometimes choose to blog institutionally, and it often doesn't work out well.

Jason said...

What is it with lawyers and blogging anyway?

Maxine Weiss said...

"I think that’s a mistake. In fact, I think editors and reporters should be encouraged to blog independently of the publications for which they work."---Ann

But how would you know if it really was independent? If someone is on staff at a Newspaper, by definition.....they are not independent.

I know of no way to get around personal bias.

I don't even thing you, dear Ann, are truly independent. You are not going to bite the hand that feeds you.

You'd never say anything too too harsh or extreme against the University.

If someone on Staff at a newspaper began bashing their Employer/Newspaper..... even that wouldn't be authentic, because they'd probably have an personal agenda.



Peace, Maxine

Bruce Hayden said...

The best blogs are not institutional. Indeed, I have tried to follow some of them, and always come back to independent blogs like this one. Sure, Ann talks a little about law, and even less about her specialities. But it is everything else that livens it up.

Ann Althouse said...

Maxine: That quote isn't mine, it's Teachout's. But, of course, you're right that bloggers who stay off institutional blogs still have loyalties and interests and relationships that affect what they think and what they are willing to write. Nevertheless, if I were to move my blog to the UW Law School site, it would change it, and it's pretty easy for me to see it would make it worse.

knoxgirl said...

editors and reporters should be encouraged to blog independently of the publications for which they work.

I agree... except for Couric & Co.

David said...

For educators I do not believe a personal blog would be much different than what is taught in that teacher's classroom.

As for the private sector, postings of insider information could affect the business including the stock price. Can you imagine a blog site from an ENRON employee before the fall? Utilities manipulating downtime for generators during peak usage?

Institionalizing web blogs would sanitize them to the point of irrelevancy.

Mark Daniels said...

I think it's silly to assert that institutional blogs must be "idiosyncratic, unmediated expressions of an individual sensibility." While my experience of group blogs and institutional blogs is that they tend to be stale, bland, and uninteresting, it doesn't mean that they have to be like that.

Besides, blogs can take any form that bloggers want them to take. There is no proscribed form. I say, "Let a million blog formats bloom." It's only a matter of time before some institutional blog knocks our socks off. Someone, maybe a certain UW lawprof, will be clever enough to figure out how to do that.

Mark

quietnorth said...

I like keeping my blog an "arm's length" from my work. I want total autonomy! But I like the concept of an institutional blog as a exercise: imagine how we would blog differently if our employer provided blog spacee and resources? Is that a measure of how we censor ourselves in work situations?

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JohnF said...

I think it depends on the institution's attitude toward its bloggers. For example, The Corner over at National Review works very well. There are pretty intense arguments among the writers, though all, of course, have a conservative streak or two, and I'd be surprised if John Derbyshire or Jonah Goldberg, for example, would write different stuff if they were blogging individually.

I'm sure other institutions would be fairly confining to blog for. Who knows?

Moreover, we are all familiar with non-institutional blogs whose bloggers have gotten in trouble with the institutions they work for (e.g., Under Their Robes).

In general, I don't think it's an institutional vs. non-institutional issue. It's just a question of finding a home for freedom of expression.

JohnF said...

I think it depends on the institution's attitude toward its bloggers. For example, The Corner over at National Review works very well. There are pretty intense arguments among the writers, though all, of course, have a conservative streak or two, and I'd be surprised if John Derbyshire or Jonah Goldberg, for example, would write different stuff if they were blogging individually.

I'm sure other institutions would be fairly confining to blog for. Who knows?

Moreover, we are all familiar with non-institutional blogs whose bloggers have gotten in trouble with the institutions they work for (e.g., Under Their Robes).

In general, I don't think it's an institutional vs. non-institutional issue. It's just a question of finding a home for freedom of expression.

JohnF said...

Sorry about that repitition. Don't quite know what happened.