Liveblogging The Art of Legal Blogging, with panelists Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog, Ilya Somin of The Volokh Conspiracy, and Alex Wohl of the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy.
Prof. Somin, yesterday,
I will try to focus my remarks on the contribution that academic lawbloggers can make to public debate. Our main comparative advantage, in my view, is our ability to bring to bear our expertise on particular areas of law and public policy. We usually cannot compete with the traditional media in breaking news stories; nor are our talents likely to be effectively used if we simply cheer on a particular political party or candidate. At the same time, we have to present our knowledge in such a way that it will be accessible to nonexpert readers. Also important, but very difficult to achieve, is the ability to reach out to readers who don’t already share our views.
A couple of the panelists are delayed due to NJ traffic.
4:45PM: Somin and Wohl here, still waiting for Denniston.
4:50PM Alex Wohl: Blogs already being outdated by new techonologies like Twitter, but it takes itself very seriously: there are no blogger jokes out there. Stats: probably over 200 million blogs.
Legal blogs: coudln’t come up with exact number. Probably 8-9% of lawyers blog. Legal blogs go into every type: aviation law, Guantanamo, legal humor, legal layoffs, Lawyers, guns and money.
The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy is modeled after the Federal Society; do not take individual sides on cases. Instead they promote panels and groups discussing almost any legal issue. At least 1 conservative on each panel. ACS started a blog about 4 years ago. They have: legal news items, guest blogging from experts on every area of law – top level people. The goals: to get the information out, and to engage members in debate and discussion. Certain people go to them and they get cited in media, lessons planned by professor because ACS is supposed to be an umbrella for progressives. Well informed, well backed up by experts in the field. In general they know their audience.
How do remain topic? Rated as one of the ABA’s top 100 blogs. In blogging in general you pick your 5 things that you want to go back to. They use Law.com to help them . What separates ACS from the other blogs is that they are not shooting off anonymous comments, but are based on sound thinking, and accademic and journalistic integrity while they know their purpose. Slate had two very good legal writers but that is not Slate’s purpose.
One extreme: Virginia Heffernan’s column, Let them eat tweets, talks about how “poor folks love their cellphones”, as in the elites have their own opinions. Another extreme: Sherman and Williams, having an argument, were neither of them gives a damn about what the other one says.
You need to know what to say, and who to appeal to.
5:15PM Ilya Somin: When the student mentioned Volohk as a “conservative” blog, Ilya corrected it to libertarian.
“It’s a sign that we’re not as well known as ACS that we still get confusedd as a conservative blog instead of a libertarian.” VC cover a large range of different legal and political issues by seven contributors, and every so often on other issues such as science fiction. His post on Federalism and Star Trek showed that people are interested on things that are entertaining as well as informative.
Legal bloggers can not be reporters, he’s a consumer of news, not a creator of them.
They should not try to mobilize opinion. There are experts who do that. Instead, they should focus on their areas of expertise, and if they focus on those issues they can be more informative, particularly if considering counter-intuitive points.
Being libertarian helps you set yourself apart from the political parties, including his own separating himself from the Libertarian Party.
One example to bring his academic work to bear was with the Kelo case. What he wanted to bring was non-obvious points: the rights of individual property owners and the needs of the community. But instead what happens it that it destroys the use and 10 years and $80 million in value was destroyed and nothing was created, which is what happened in Kelo. Real world politicians do what helps them get re elected and they transfer the property of politically weak people to politically powerful. When you see this as a systematic pattern you can contribute to the debate. He also posted on the massive political reaction – 43 states passed legislation following the case.
A broader political process is that most of the public has very little knowledge of what law is being passed. So IS’s interest in property rights overlapped with other issues. At the same time, you need to be honest to the other side, such as prior precedents which gave government even more powers than Kelo.
Know what your expertise is, be able to say something interesting that can not be found in other sites. If that doesn’t work, you can blog about Star Trek.
5:30PM Lyle Denniston: LD started by mentioning today’s oral argument involving the strip search was that the girl had over seven tattoos. Only justice Ginsburg and Stevens were not concerned over drugs. It was pretty clear that school administrators will be able to gain some form of search authority such as strip searches.
LD will try to sketch the situation in journalism because SCOTUS blog is a media organization.
Princeton is not a bad place to talk about Thoreau: Quted from Civil Disobedience on the acorn and the chesnut,
I perceive that, when an acorn and a chestnut fall side by side, the one does not remain inert to make way for the other, but both obey their own laws, and spring and grow and flourish as best they can, till one, perchance, overshadows and destroys the other. If a plant cannot live according to its nature, it dies; and so a man.
Journalism is the chesnut and is not being able to live according to its own laws and is dying.
LD would like SCOTUS blog to be a source of information on law in general, but Tom wants it to remain on SCOTUS. The mainstream press tends to cover the case on broad focus. “They show up for the big shows and leave when the big show is over.”
LD is saddened by newspaper closings.
But the problem is not simply an economic one. The mainstream media is losing its serious purpose. A front page story was actually an advertising for a movie. NYT, page 1, how consistently basketball players make their freethrows.
The loss of this serious purpose is beginning to infect legal journalism in the mainstream media. Each story began with the plight of the student.
Next week on constitutionality of Sec. 5 of the Civil Rights Law, but if he hears again that it’s about moving the polling place, he might begin to believe it.
“Substantive reports on matters of critical public policy are increasingly shortchanged.” Carly vs. US: not 1 word in the NYTimes. Papers have space only for the big case, and only if it’s part of a bigger case.
SCOTUS is the only blog following the story on how the war on terrorism is being engaged.
The Supreme Court has a past and a future. Legal journalists are not interested in process but outcomes. Also interested in journalism.
LD tries to demonstrate that legal blogging is increasingly the art of filling a void.
A blog has immediacy, can have depth, can expand on a story. His report on the Savanna Redding case ran 3,000 words. A blog can also immediately correct itself.
The story on gun ownership brought them over 300,000 visitors. It anticipated the controversy over the 2d Amendment.
What is SCOTUS Blog? Centered on the Supreme Court, has a seat in the press room and a seat in the court. They use both of those forms of access. Half is news, the other half is analysis pieces, with a small portion on commentary.
LD is entirely independent of a legal practice. He examines every case that is on pay dock, and the paid cases; many are cases he already knows from tracking them through the lower courts. Every SCOTUS entry will have all of the legal documents. They make the text of all the arguments and all the decisions.
LD’s work as a blogger is different from that of a journalist: no editor, no assignments, no deadlines, no copy editor. Whatever interpretation he derives is his own. He makes a strenous effort to not use legal terms a general audience won’t understand.
It pleases him to give credit to other blogs. He wants his readers to link immediately to the posts.
With very few exceptions court decisions are on line somewhere – he believes his readers should get the links in his posts so they can examine the work directly.
There’s an unfortunate tendency to refer to blogs as frivolous, tendencious. He’s working for a legal establishment organization and was told the name could not have “blog” in the name because of the reputation of blogs. Blogs need to work at a high level of reliability and seriousness.
for LD: What is the line for bloggers to be considered journalists, and afforded the protections, and how long before a blogger is prosecuted under the espionage laws?
LD: A blogger should have the same rights and the same responsibilities under the law. Libel laws are being used quite aggressively against bloggers. The credentialing problem is a serious problem. Generally we’re excluded.
Q: Relationship between traditional academic legal scholarship and newer forms of essays on blogs?
IS: There are different schools of thought. What blogging can do is facilitate the exchange of academic ideas, and it also makes it easier to promote scholarship than before. Today if you can link to it in a blog it’s easier to reach a large audience, and people who don’t have access to law searches.
AW: You have people who are in the process of being tenured, I don’t see the blog process as a way to get tenure. It makes the work more accessible instead. The real danger is that there’s a misuse of academic articles on other blogs. It requires responsibility on the part of the reader.
LD: If one reads a blog like Balkanization, it’s very serious commentary. While it is not as extensive as accademic research, it gives a good voice. Same with Volohk, and Election Law, it is good scholarship. He also uses Patently O Blog.
Q. Are blogs being cited in cases?
IS: Yes, that doesn’t mean they influence it. However it’s some indication of greater influence than before.
AW: This was the 1st year bloggers could be up for Pulitzers, but he gives it 2 years.
LD: Politico was a finalist.