Perspectives: Blogging Opens Up New Avenues For Professors

Ellen, who? Paul, who? Until 2004, we were academics who wrote only law review articles and books. If we were lucky, our work was read by a handful of fellow academics, students and practicing lawyers and judges. Today, we appear regularly in the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Business Week, Forbes and an array of other leading newspapers and magazines in the United States and abroad. We have endured two-hour photo shoots. We have spoken at Harvard Law School. Have we suddenly gotten smarter or more perceptive (or better looking)? No, we are now bloggers.

Suddenly, people care about what Ellen Podgor says about white-collar crime, and about what Paul Caron says about tax. More than 2 million unique visitors have come to our blogs (White Collar Crime Prof Blog and TaxProf Blog) in less than two years. With more than 15 years each in the legal education business, we are suddenly overnight sensations.

Weblogs, or “blogs,” are not merely a pre-teen and teenage fad. Defined by the online encyclopedia Wikipedia as “regular entries … presented in reverse chronological order,” this new medium provides real-time access to information by our regular readers (who have bookmarked our sites and visit on a daily basis) as well as by our guests (who find us through search engines such as Google).

Academic blogging can increase your visibility, not premised on who you know or the pedigree of your school, but rather on the quality and timeliness of your entries. Academic blogs often are focused on a particular subject, such as our white-collar crime and tax blogs, and can be either components of a blog group, such as the law professors blogs network (www.lawprofessorblogs.com,) or stand-alone blogs. There are no time restrictions or deadlines to meet when it comes to blogging, allowing the blogger the luxury of offering an entry whenever he or she likes. But thoughtful entries, with current material, are more likely to attract and retain readership.

We try to provide our readers with educated commentary on current legal events to help them understand complicated areas of law. Blogs have the immediacy of television news, but our spots are not limited to 30 seconds, and the level of discussion can reach a higher altitude. One doesn’t have to rely on TiVo for instant or later replays. Blogs allow readers to ask questions, insert their own opinions or offer their expertise to advance the discussion.

Although blogs can raise one’s profile, they also present unique challenges. While they allow professors the opportunity to educate the public on areas of importance, they also bypass the peer-review or student journal process. There is no monitor of the grammar or content; mistakes, although technologically correctable after the fact, are immediately accessible to the public in their raw form. The public can access your entries without a library card or journal subscription and without leaving home.

Blogs also can present challenges in academic circles. Some in the academy may be wary of this new vehicle for presenting information. Time spent blogging may not “count” for purposes of promotion and tenure. But these attitudes will change over time as more and more faculty use blogs to enrich their professional lives.

And remember: You wouldn’t be reading this column if it weren’t for our blogs.

— Ellen S. Podgor, associate dean for faculty development and distance education at Stetson University College of Law, is co-editor of White Collar Crime Prof Blog at http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/whitecollarcrime_blog. Paul L. Caron, the Charles Hartsock Professor of Law and director of faculty projects at the University of Cincinnati College of Law, is editor of the TaxProf Blog at http://taxprof.typepad.com.

 

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