Joan Biskupic gave the opening address today at the 7th Circuit Judicial Conference. Her theme was the importance of traditional journalism in covering the Supreme Court. She described sitting in the Supreme Court to hear oral arguments and the announcements of opinions. She's there. She has the sense that she is witnessing history and creating the historical record.
But a Supreme Court decision isn't an event that takes place in the courtroom. There is value to a reporter's description of how passionate a justice sounded reading from a dissenting opinion or the dubious expression on a justice's face during oral argument, but there is no reason to elevate this writing over a law professor's analysis that is based on reading opinions and argument transcripts and drawing on a long, scholarly study of the Court's work. What has changed and what is challenging traditional journalism is that, with blogs, law professors now write about the cases on the same day. We get the cases and argument transcripts right away, so no one needs to rely on a reporter who was physically present to hear something.
Why isn't it better to have a horde of legal experts receiving the same-day texts and writing whatever they think deserves to be written? One answer is that newspapers exist and must contain articles reporting the news, including the news from the courts. But newspapers don't have to exist and they don't necessarily do the best job of providing information about the law. As Biskupic said, there are very few regular reporters on the Supreme Court beat. These reporters cover all the cases, but law bloggers write about what they choose. Some of us stick to specialized areas of law. Some of us write extensively when the case deserves it and say nothing about other cases. Why is it better to have the same generalist writing about all the cases and providing a steady stream of articles of the same length and depth?
Of course, journalists portray themselves as neutral and strictly governed by professional standards. Meanwhile, bloggers can do anything. But nothing stops a blogger from reporting the work of the courts in a neutral way, following a journalistic approach. And journalists have their biases. Bloggers may provide opinionated commentary, but we may expose the places where the traditional reporters are displaying bias. Isn't it better to have more voices in the mix? There's this notion that the bloggers are distorting what used to be a purer process of delivering the news about the cases, but I think it's more accurate to say that the process only used to look pure because a few reporters were monopolizing the flow of information.
Biskupic noted that a traditional journalist may be asked to blog on her newspaper's website. She, in fact, experimented with a blog -- not visible to the public -- on the USAToday site, and she admitted she wasn't cut out for it. It was hard for her to be chatty and spontaneous, and the idea was abandoned. "I don't have a blogger personality," she said.
Later, there were two panels. The first, discussing traditional media, included David Savage and Jonathan Turley as well as Biskupic. The second, moderated by 7th Circuit judge Diane Sykes, had -- along with me -- Eugene Volokh, Christine Hurt, Richard Garnett, Jason Czarnezki, and Howard Bashman. I'll just do some highlights.
One subject on the first panel was the way some Justices go out and about doing public appearances. Biskupic said: "Justices get in trouble when they go on the road. Well, we like when they get in trouble."
Someone on the first panel complained about how boring it is to sit through confirmation hearings. Now, see, here's why blogging is better! You don't sit in the room getting bored. You're home with the TiVo, making strategic decisions about which parts to watch and commenting only where you have something to say. The reporters see the hearings as mindnumbing blather because they have to produce a news story. Something happened, so there must be an article commemorating the event. Bloggers pick what they want to talk about it. There are no particular spaces to be filled. Just a stream to carry on.
About John Roberts and his family, Turley said: "They looked like they were raised hydroponically by Karl Rove."
Savage picked up the theme of journalistic neutrality. He said journalists represent a "Green Zone" where there is no "pitch to the left or right." And he wheeled out the conventional opinion about blogs: Everyone goes to the blog that expresses the bias they like. The point here is that you need traditional media to keep people from cocooning inside their preexisting beliefs. But newspapers can be worse. People who rely on newspapers can't pop around looking for variety. They are stuck with that one reporter, decade after decade. And one of the things bloggers do is point out the slants and distortions in the newspaper articles.
I'll have to write something about the blogger panel later, because the cocktail reception is already under way, and the dinner is coming up soon. Speaking at the dinner: Justice John Paul Stevens and Solicitor General Paul Clement. So I've got to get my act together and make it to the dinner.