Thursday, August 10, 2006

"Can Blogging Derail Your Career?"

The July 28 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education ran an interesting symposium on blogging and academic life, entitled "Can Blogging Derail Your Career?" As a professor of political science, and a (newbie) blogger, I found some of the essays very interesting. The impetus for the symposium was the rejection of historian Juan Cole for a tenured position at Yale University. Cole's a hard-left radical, who spews his nasty, unfiltered views on his page, "Informed Comment." Did blogging kill Cole's chances? The Chronicle asked seven scholar-bloggers to comment on Cole's predicament, answering whether blogging and high-powered academics can coexist.

These are brief but informative articles. I liked
Ann Althouse's entry, where she lays out her theory on what motivates an academic to share her thoughts via weblog:

What are we to make of the blogging professor? I'm not talking about professors who look upon blogging as a new way to project their scholarship into the world and who assiduously protect their reputations by writing every post in an academic style. I'm talking about those of us who are inspired by this writing format, who find ourselves drawn into new ways of thinking and communicating with the world.

If you veer away from purely scholarly writing and engage in polemic or satire or elliptical snark about controversial subject matter, you may very well win a widespread audience and feel highly gratified by this response, but then you will also be motivating some people to oppose you, perhaps quite viciously, and you will be generating the material they can use to try to bring you down. The very fact that you're a professor is leverage: This person purports to be a scholar, but look how he writes!

Successful blog writing is sharp and clear. Controversial opinions will look quite stark. You lay it on the line, and you mean to startle readers and make your opponents mad. Academic writing is temperate and swathed in verbiage. It creates a comfortable environment for academics and wards off casual readers. In the blogosphere, you're newly exposed, and it's a rough arena, where you have far less control over what happens to you. That's part of what makes blogging empowering and, often, great fun. But it's a big risk, and of course, it risks your career.
Althouse writes a cool blog at Althouse, naturally, and her comments got me to thinking about why I blog. Probably the most important reason follows from the axiom that readers are writers: I've been reading a few key blogs regularly for at least a couple years now, and it turns out this year I got the itch to get in the game. It took me a little while to get up to speed, but I'm locked-in now as a blogophile -- it's fun and addicting, and I can see it improving my teaching, especially in that I hope to use my blog posts as part of students' writing assignments each semester.

More importantly, though, Burkean Reflections is the expressive outlet to which Althouse refers: I enjoy providing informed commentary on the things I read and on my life encounters. There are lots of blogging styles, and mine is from a tenured-perspective -- academic (with lots of bibliographic references), professional, and serious (although some commenters have found some humor here and there). I'm a "linker" too,
a term coined by Betsy Newmark to describe a blogger who likes mostly to link rather than write full-blown original essays (but one who's not against throwing-in lengthy flourishes of commentary now and then). I've also tried to emulate the style of fellow political scientist Daniel Drezner -- a veteran blogger and symposium participant here -- whose posts can be found on his weblog,

In sum, I'm enjoying the blog ride so far, and thanks go out to my emerging readership for riding along.

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