Category: Blogging


Free Speech at a Cocktail Party

Yesterday, Dan posted a commenting policy for Concurring Opinions. Such things frequently bring forth muttered imprecations of speech control and the demise of the First Amendment. Of course the mutterers understand that Concurring Opinions, despite its obvious power and influence, is not a state actor, but still it seems like a public space. Shouldn’t we encourage the marketplace of ideas to let a thousand flowers bloom (to paraphrase Holmes and Mao)? Well no, not really.

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Blogging for a Living

The Wall St. Journal cites a rather questionable statistic about the number of bloggers who blog for a living:

The best studies we can find say we are a nation of over 20 million bloggers, with 1.7 million profiting from the work, and 452,000 of those using blogging as their primary source of income. That’s almost 2 million Americans getting paid by the word, the post, or the click — whether on their site or someone else’s. And that’s nearly half a million of whom it can be said, as Bob Dylan did of Hurricane Carter: “It’s my work he’d say, I do it for pay.”

Is the WSJ serious? Perhaps, the 452,000 people who blog as their primary source of income include any college or high school student who has a blog with Google Ads. Otherwise, the statistic seems quite dubious to me. According to a quote from the website where the WSJ cites as the source of the above statistic:

The average annual blogger revenue is more than $6,000. However, this is skewed by the top 1% of bloggers who earn $200k+. Among active bloggers that we surveyed, the average income was $75,000 for those who had 100,000 or more unique visitors per month (some of whom had more than one million visitors each month). The median annual income for this group is significantly lower — $22,000.

At Concurring Opinions, we get 100,000+ unique visitors per month, and sadly, our take home pay is far far south of $22,000. Where’s all the money? If it’s out there, it sure ain’t in our pockets, I’ll boldly state that we’re all keeping our day jobs!

Back to Basics

I’ve been a neglectful blogger, so I thought I might sign up for Robert Lanham’s “Internet Era Writing Course.” Despite my absence from Twitter, I’ve completed an embarrassing number of the prerequisites:

ENG: 232WR—Advanced Tweeting: The Elements of Droll

LIT: 223—Early-21st-Century Literature: 140 Characters or Less

ENG: 102—Staring Blankly at Handheld Devices While Others Are Talking

ENG: 301—Advanced Blog and Book Skimming

ENG: 231WR—Facebook Wall Alliteration and Assonance

LIT: 202—The Literary Merits of Lolcats

LIT: 209—Internet-Age Surrealistic Narcissism and Self-Absorption

On a slightly more serious note, check out the legal issues raised by D.T. Max’s moving profile of David Foster Wallace in the New Yorker.

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Constitutional Problems Under Nationalization

I want to thank Dan for inviting me to join the blog this month. My friends and family also thank him for relieving them of the exclusive burden of hearing my crazy ideas.

One of the major issues confronting the Obama Administration is how to fix the financial system and other industries that are reeling from the Panic of 2008. In several instances, firms that were deemed “too-big-to-fail” were nationalized to prevent a disorderly bankruptcy (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and AIG) and in other cases the specter of nationalization looms (Citigroup, Bank of America, and General Motors). While I certainly hope that these takeovers will be few and brief, there is a real prospect that this will not be the case. And this presents a constitutional problem.

Put simply, there is almost no precedent for direct governmental ownership of private firms. The Populist Party of the 1890s, which is the subject of my next book, campaigned on a platform of nationalization, but that effort failed (or was just way ahead of its time). The Tennessee Valley Authority raised some questions about active state participation in the marketplace, but they were never really resolved. As a result, lawyers may be forced to think about some difficult issues over the next few years without much guidance. Here are some examples:

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Thanks, and Goodbye

Thanks to my hosts for a fun month of blogging here at Co-Op. I had planned to blog on some additional topics, but there’s nothing like a deadline (for me: to answer this Call for Papers) to focus the attention on writing. I really enjoyed the time here and especially thank the commentators on my posts for the helpful back and forth!


Niche Blogging

I want to thank Dan and the rest of the Concurring Opinions bloggers for having me. I figured I would start by posting about something close to home for me.

Doug Berman, at Sentencing Law & Policy, recently called for more people in the criminal justice world to take up blogging. Specifically, he explained that issue-focused, niche blogs serve the valuable function of expanding the debate about important topics. I have been a blogger for over two years in a very tiny niche: sex crimes. There are definitely positives and negatives to being a single-topic blogger.

For me, the negatives have not been too pronounced, but they do come up from time to time. A niche blog audience tends to be narrower and there are less regular readers. Instead, narrow-focus blogs are consulted more often when a hot topic intersects with the blog’s subject matter. Rick Hasen’s Election Law Blog is a good example of that trend as his traffic patterns substantially change during election season. That means that the niche blogger has to a lot more work during the off-peak times to draw attention to the blog. I am not one who revels in promoting my blog so that has been the toughest thing for me. The other significant negative is there are times when I see a post around the web unrelated to sex crimes to which I really want to respond, but I cannot justify it on my blog.

The positives have, so far, outweighed the negatives for me. Most importantly, the people who read my blog, regularly or irregularly, tend have much higher interest levels about the topics on which I blog. I would guess, for that reason, I get a much higher volume of email from blog readers than I would on a general topic blog. That has allowed me to get to know a lot of people with different perspectives about sex crime laws. Since that has been the primary focus of my scholarship, the reader feedback has served me well in enhancing my scholarly work. I also think there is tremendous value in the disciplinary nature of niche blogging. My blog forces me to read and think about the issues which interest me on a daily basis. While I think there are times when every blogger wonders if blogging is trading off with more productive activity, I think the net effect for me has been to increase my overall work rate.

So, I would extend Berman’s call for more single-issue bloggers beyond the criminal justice area. While I enjoy a lot of group and general interest blogs, there is an important place in the legal blogosphere for niche blogs.

Cross-posted at Sex Crimes.

Visiting Yale, Balkinization, and Law & Tech Theory

I just wanted to make a note that I’ll be posting less frequently than normal this month, for a few reasons. First, as many of our law prof readers know, the dreaded “March publishing cycle” is upon us. Second, I’m visiting at Yale this term, and it’s always a bit hard to “find your feet” at a new place. Finally, I’m posting at Balkinization and Law & Technology Theory this month.

I hope that SourceHub will add these posts to its apparent aggregation of my blogging at their site. (According to their metrics, I am a “highly opinionated, somewhat negative” writer–leading me to renewed skepticism of number-crunching!)

For those interested, my Balkinization posts have mainly followed up on these reflections on Google; I talk about the book settlement here, and conservative complaints that Google favors Obama here. The theme of Law & Tech Theory this year is technology and human autonomy; I’m concerned with performance-enhancing drugs, revising and updating some posts that first appeared here on Concurring Opinions.

Why Blog II: The Comments

I began drafting this series a few weeks ago, before the current controversy over blog comments brewed. I agree with much of what both Jack Balkin and Dan Solove have said on the matter, and it may be an exhausted topic at this point. But I thought I’d just add a few additional thoughts.

Sometimes a blog audience wants to keep a blog clear of comments. For instance, Andrew Sullivan has surveyed his readers on whether they want comments on his very popular blog, and all the votes I’ve seen have been negative. One of his readers writes:

Readers of your blog could opt to not read the comments section, but in truth we would rarely opt not to read them — on your blog or any other blog. Blog comments have the power to hammerlock one’s attention. I think, humans being highway rubberneckers, we’d be impotent to resist looking over the rantings and counter-rantings that would make their way into your Comments Section. Not only would comments be an incredible drain on one’s time . . . but it also exposes readers to the nasty underbelly of blogging.

While most of the current discussion focuses on what can go wrong with comments, there is much that can go right. The comment section allows readers to “glom on” and add a lot to the conversation. I am indebted to many terrific commenters who consistently alert me to interesting sources of information, flaws in my arguments, or material that supports the original post. Even just hearing someone say “great post!” can be really encouraging. Hence my Blackstone ratio of blog commenting: one positive or helpful comment is worth ten negative ones.

But what to do about negative, irrelevant, kvetching, or cavilling comments? I have a few approaches, depending on the identity of the commenter and the nature of the comments.

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The Death of Blog Comments?

comments.jpgOver at Above the Law, a new comment policy has been implemented:

As the Above the Law community continues to grow, more people are posting absurd, inane, and arguably offensive comments. And more people are complaining about those comments — in the comments, as well by email and other means. . . .

[W]e’ll be changing our site design so that comments will default to “hidden.” If you want to see the comments, you must affirmatively opt-in, by clicking a button to reveal them (either the “show them anyway” button within the post, or the “comments” button / counter on the front page).

I think that this is a wise step, as many of the comments at Above the Law are quite crude, and they seem to have been getting worse over time.

At Balkinization, a more radical change has been implemented — comments have been turned off for many posts. Jack Balkin writes:

Since last week I have implemented a new policy on the blog. The default rule is that comments are turned off. Each author will decide individually whether to turn the comments on for his or her postings. . . .

[T]he comments sections are populated by regular trolls and many threads have turned into little more than name-calling. There is very rarely any serious analysis; mostly there is point scoring and vitriol. Many regular readers have written to say that they find the comments section a distraction and think the blog would be far better without it.

I’ve always believed that the comment sections of blog posts shouldn’t be wild west free speech zones. Ideally, the comments provide an interesting and thoughtful discussion, even where commenters strongly disagree with a post. Comments that are rude, off-topic, uncivil, and unnecessarily snarky or nasty don’t have much value in my opinion. It appears as though more and more bloggers are starting to get fed up with obnoxious comments. A few years ago, it seemed to me that the blogosphere had a much more permissive view toward comments than it does now.

Fortunately, the commenters here at Concurring Opinions are generally quite thoughtful and civil. I, for one, really hope this continues. I greatly enjoy many of the comments here, and I hope we don’t ever have to resort to limiting or hiding comments. It seems to me that different blog commenting cultures arise on different blogs. I bet that the readership for Balkinization and Concurring Opinions overlaps quite a bit, yet I have noticed that the comments at Balkinization are much as Jack describes them. Why have commenting cultures developed so differently at different blogs? I don’t really know the answer, and it would be interesting to figure out why commenting cultures develop in the ways that they do.