April 16, 2006

Bluebooking blog comments.

So I'm writing this little essay for a conference about blogging. I'm arguing in favor of blogging on a multitude of topics and had this paragraph:
Even some of the people who get blogging still hate the idea that the fun of blogging should have to be shared with older bloggers, with professors. They will say: Don’t you have a life? Who do you think you are? If a lawprof receives too much attention blogging outside of the lawprof box, there will be push-back. Bloggers will make it their business to tell you to get back in the box.
I wanted a footnote at "older bloggers," that would refer to a comment over at Wonkette. The subject over there is Stanley Fish's new blog at the New York Times, and the first commenter, one "Chris," writes "Another step in the geezerfication of the blogosphere."

What's the Bluebook citation form for blog comments? I make this up:
See"Stanley Fish Has A Blog?," http://www.wonkette.com/politics/stanley-fish/stanley-fish-
has-a-blog-167381.php (4/14/06) (comment by Chris on 4/14/06 03:34 PM) ("Another step in the geezerfication of the blogosphere.")
Then I email that attempt to my son John -- currently a law review editor -- with the subject line "not really meaning to bug you about citation form but..." and ask "how far off is this?" Now, you could say, why are you bugging John about it? You should look up the citation form. But the alternative for me would be just leaving the citation in the form I'd guessed might be right. I'm not going to look it up, but I thought John would be interested in the citation problem.

He wrote back:
Well, I think the Bluebook's blog cite form (rule 18.2.4) is very problematic, but assuming you're following that, it should be:

See Posting of Chris to Wonkette, http://www.wonkette.com/politics/stanley-fish/stanley-fish-
has-a-blog-167381.php (Apr. 14, 2006, 15:34 EST).

That assumes you know it was posted in the Eastern time zone.

The BB doesn't mention comments to blogs as opposed to authors' posts. I am using the "multiple posters" cite form, which is meant to parallel the form used for web discussion forums. I can't see why you would cite comments any differently from authors' posts if you're using the BB.

The BB doesn't provide for giving the titles of blog posts, which I think is a problem.

That's followed immediately by a second email:
And of course you can have the parenthetical with the quote at the end.

And put a period at the end.
Responding to the first email, I write:
Thanks. You could say "Comment by Chris" etc.

I'd like to be able to use the title! I guess you could put it in a parenthetical, right? Not using the title puts a premium software that makes URLs that pick up the title (like that one).
(Responding to the second email, I compliment him on his eye for the missing dot.)

He writes back:
The BB form allows you to refer to a "Posting" in the case of "multiple posters" to blogs. I would apply that to comments. "Comment" is a term of art that's meaningful when used on a blog; it's not necessarily a valid distinction in the context of law review citations.

I don't see how you could put the title in a parenthetical unless it was genuinely a statement that you wanted to quote to support your proposition. The phrase "Posting of Chris" is meant to take the place of the title. If you really want the title, I would just completely ditch the blog cite form and cite it as an online periodical, using the form you'd use to cite a Slate article under rule 18.2.3(b).
Not distinguish between a post and a comment? Anyone commenting at Wonkette gets to be "posting" at Wonkette? The Bluebook must recognize the blogger/commenter distinction. It's so important. But I'm pleased to know the Bluebook has a rule about blogs. Still, if it is problematic, why not write an amendment to it? I think law reviews should tweak the rules and make in-house rules to follow instead of waiting for the next edition of the Bluebook.

(I'd like to quote the text of the rules John cited, but it seems as though the Bluebook isn't available online. That's ridiculous, but not to Harvard Law Review which asks $24.95 for the manual. An awful lot of people need that book, and do you buy a new one each time a new edition comes out? They are up to the 18th edition. That's a lot of money for Harvard!)


faster said...

When I read posts like this I question why I ever decided to go to law school.

Ann Althouse said...

What, you don't enjoy citation form?!

Ann Althouse said...

Think of it as a relaxing change of pace from... ideas.

Ruth Anne Adams said...
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John Jenkins said...

This reminds me of wonderful cite-checking assignments back in my 2L year. The slavish devotion to form in a medium so utterly devoid of meaningful content (law review articles) still gets a chuckle out of me (and I pity 2Ls every year).

Matthew said...

The BB Rule (18.2.4) on blogs is pretty bad, much like the rest of the BB rules on electronic sources.

"Postings to blogs take one of two formats. If there is only one poster to the blog, cite as a Web page, but include the date and time-stamp to indicate the specific posting cited. If there are multiple posters on the blog, cite as a posting to a discussion forum. In both cases, indicate the title of the blog before the URL."

Jim H said...

Is it finally time for the Cite-Althouse-in-a-Brief Challenge?!!

Jim H said...

What was with my limited imagination in the previous post? I can write what I want in the comments section then cite to myself.

Tom T. said...

The flaws that Ann has identified will be corrected in a future edition, which, along with 25 other minuscule changes, will then provide a basis for selling yet another edition to the same market.

30yearProf said...

I haven't looked in the BB since I got my first law teaching position. That's what research assisants and LR staff are for. Yippeee.

Marghlar said...

30yearprof, I will think of you, and your glee, the next time I have to labriously redo cite after cite. I will think about biting down on the power cord of my computer until I feel the sweet jolt that tells me that death has finally come for me, but I won't do it. I won't do it because I will finally have a dream.

A dream of revenge.

(Don't worry, you aren't on a hit list or anything. My revenge will take the form of becoming a prof myself, forgetting the rules, and screwing over a future generation of law students. And thus the cycle continues.)

Ann Althouse said...

30yearprof: Are you 30 years old or have you been a lawprof for 30 years?

I usually don't have a research assistant -- as a matter of personal preference -- and even when I have had one, I have never asked anyone to go over my citation form (that I remember). I try to do the citations right, but on some complicated things, I just make a good guess at the right form and let the law review make it exactly right. I haven't bought a Bluebook since the 13th edition, so I have nothing on the electronic things. My main concern is writing the text well, because I don't want the editors to word edit.

John R Henry said...

One comment on cites and punctuation:

If citing a blog or any electronic source I normally do not put a period after the cite whether or not it is appropriate.

the problem is that if the pub is ever in electronic form, the period may interfere with the linkage.

If you absolutely must use a period, be sure to put a space between it and the citation.

John Henry

Truly said...

Ah, but the 18th edition has a shiny cover! Surely that's worth coughing up another $25!!

I practically memorized the 17th edition--the thought of taking on a new version makes me weary.

Dave said...

Seems to me that if people are concerned about the amount of money HLS earns from selling its citation book, then someone should start an open-source version of such book (say WikiCitation) and disintermediate the middle man.

Of course, this type of thing should, and will happen, across the educational spectrum. My guess is that 50 to a 100 years from now the vast majority of education will take place via the internet, and we will look back on the august esteem with which society held academic institutions as a quaint anachronism.

None too soon, in my opinion.

Marghlar said...

Ann: bless you for trying. From a student perspective, it really does make a big difference.

SippicanCottage said...
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Simon said...

I would probably think the appropriate citation would be similar to citing a newpaper article. For example:

See D. Bernstein, ABA Accreditation Standards Supercede Contrary State Laws at THE VOLOKH CONSPIRACY (http://volokh.com/posts/1145057620.shtml), 4/14/2006.

Accord A. Althouse, Will Rudy run? at ALTHOUSE (http://althouse.blogspot.com/2006/04/will-rudy-run.html), 4/7/2006 (arguing that "Giuliani's sheer brilliance as a speaker" gives him an edge); but see id., comment by MadisonMan at 4/7/2006 07:45 (noting disparity in effect for those who do not use audiovisual materials in deciding votes).

Such a format identifies the author, where it was posted, when, and gives the hyperlink, all without looking out of place. I really don't think citation of blog posts is much of a logjam; the same rules that have long applied to other media still essentially apply. Obviously, this runs afoul of anonymous bloggers, but frankly, I don't think that's the only (or even the main) reason anonymous bloggers should be considered uncitable.

Simon said...

My previous post now codified into five rules here.

P. G. said...

I haven't bought a new edition of the bluebook since my 1L year, in 1997. And I never intend to. If the law review editors want to change whether the comma after the e.g. in see e.g. gets italicized or not, they can correct it themselves.

Isn't it time for the sane adults, i.e. academics, to get together and lower the boon on the students and their idiotic bluebook? Like start a competing citation system that's sensible and freely distributed online and refuse to write in anything but? I'm sure the practitioners and courts would go along.

P. G. said...

Boom, that is. I think. Where did that phrase originate? Some kind of nautical thing?

SippicanCottage said...
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Simon said...

Well, there's the Chicago Manual of Style and its derivative Maroonbook, but it has its own fair share of problems, not least a weird obsession (it seems to me, at any rate) with having "distinctive features", at the cost of usability.

For example, it sensibly suggests that when writing "Scalia, J., dissenting" or "Rehnquist, C.J., concurring", the honorific is redundant, which would lead one to write instead just "Scalia, dissenting" or "Rehnquist, concurring". I think that's very practical and sensible. That's a distinctive feature that is also practical. But then, on the other hand, it demands that abbreviative periods be dropped in (and only in) very specific circumstances, and arbitrarily abolishes terms like supra and infra without providing any serious alternatives. CMS has many nice features, but several that I would deem silly, restrictive, pointless, and even misguided.

None-the-less, forced at gunpoint to pick the CMS or the bluebook, I would pick the CMS, but I agree that this choice is silly. There is no conceivable reason why the legal community is incapable of producing a sensible system that combines the best of both.

P. G. said...

It would seem like a "sensible system" could be expressed in a single page, and we're all mad for not doing so. To wit:

Rule 1: All cases shall be cited by name, volume, reporter, page number, court, and year. Those items shall be put in that order.

Rule 2: All journal articles shall be cited by author, article name, volume, journal, page number, and year. Those items shall be put in that order.

Rule 3: All online items shall be cited by author, page title, URL, date last updated (if available, otherwise last visited). Those items shall be put in that order.

Rule 4: All other items shall be cited by author, title, date of publication, publisher, and such other information as is necessary to find them using ordinary bibilographic sources.

Rule 5: Subsequent references to a source may be cited by noting the previous reference in which it appears and the title of the document.

That's it. You may consider the above five rules donated to the public domain. I submit that they contain a complete citation system which is just as useful as the current alternatives. To the extent there's anything missing, a few days on a wiki can fix it right up.

There's no need to specify where the commas, periods, etc. go. It's irrelevant to usability whether or not you put a comma between the court and the year, and only serves to waste everybody's time.

Sarah said...

But if 2Ls and 3Ls weren't investing hundreds of hours in worrying about whether to italicize various commas, they might get restless and start demanding a more meaningful education, and then where we would all be?

As a tool to keep the brightest and/or most ambitious upperclass students from revolting, the Bluebook is sheer genius. I'm not sure what other purposes it serves.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Simon: Your rule would not "run[] afoul of anonymous bloggers." The standard Bluebook format for unsigned pieces (such as newspaper editorials) is to simply omit the author's name.

Simon said...

So in the example I gave above, were Volokh an anonymously-authored blog, I would cite Bernstein's post thus:

See ABA Accreditation Standards Supercede Contrary State Laws at THE VOLOKH CONSPIRACY (http://volokh.com/posts/1145057620.shtml), 4/14/2006.


cd said...

Wow, this post reminds me: why I declined the invitation to write for a journal in law school, why I despised writing memos in law school, why I despised my law school for not even using BB (prefering the non-marketable skills provided by being a slave to ALWD), why legal education and 99% of legal writing is complete and utter nonsense divorced from meaning, reality, etc.

Ann, your ideas for citations make sense, as do the ideas of a few others. But imagine making the legal writing world conform to something outside itself! Can't you get fired for that sort of thing?

Ann Althouse said...

CD: I'm just talking about a journal adopting its own local rules. Journals already do that about some things, I think. How did Chicago ever break away from Harvard and produce the Chicago manual? When I was at NYU we eliminated a lot of the italics in footnotes.

Marghlar said...

Well, it didn't hurt that Chicago has enormous academic prestige...there is more pressure on mere mortals to conform, although I think journals are overfussy about it.

PG said...

Yes, you buy a new manual for each new edition if you want to comply with what a bunch of law students think is the correct way to cite things.

And yes, the Bluebook citation style for blogs is exceptionally stupid.