Blogging: A high risk activity?

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Academic blogging remains a controversial and risky activity.

On the one hand, blogging has damaged some academic careers…

Many academic bloggers have been frightened off by Ivan Tribble’s warnings about blogging (Chronicle of Higher Education). Hiring committees tend to view blogging as a potential liability, says Tribble. He gives examples of people who lost academic positions because of their blogs.

This article scared me, too, but didn’t necessarily put me off blogging. What it did tell me was that if you blog under your own name, you need to recognize that what you write can affect your reputation as an academic. The bloggers cited by Tribble seemed to be naive or lacking of common sense about the importance of safeguarding their online identities.

The case of Juan Cole

What did scare me was learning that even highly relevant academic bloggers who blog in their areas of expertise can suffer career damage. One illustration is the case of Juan Cole. Cole is a professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of Michigan. In 2002, he launched Informed Comment, a highly visible blog commenting on current issues related to the Middle East.

Cole gets quoted by the mainstream news media. He appears regularly in popular publications like Salon. And — love it or hate it — everyone who is anyone reads his blog. (Siva Vaidhyanathan)

Cole has done something no other scholar of the region has done since Bernard Lewis: “become a household word.” (The Chronicle Review)

Cole is the most respected voice on foreign policy on the left, and, as such, is a strong critic of the Bush administration. (The Hotline: National Journal’s Daily Briefing on Politics).

Cole’s blog Informed Comment also won the 2005 James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism and was cited as “Best Expert Blog” in the 2003 Koufax Awards for leftist bloggers. Controversial, yes. Lacking professionalism, no.

So what happened to Cole?

After two departments recommended him for a tenured position at Yale University, a senior committee decided last month not to offer him the job after all. Although Yale has declined to explain its decision, numerous accounts in the news media have speculated that Cole’s appointment was shot down because of views he expressed on his blog. (The Chronicle of Higher Education)

Cole’s is not an isolated caseDaniel Drezner also failed to get tenure because of his foreign policy blog. (On the plus side, he did get expressions of interest from others who had heard of him through his blog and is now working at another university.)

…On the other hand, new media are the wave of the future.
I’m old enough to remember the days before electronic databases. Most of us rarely have to set foot in the library anymore to do our literature reviews. We can get most of it online.

Can I imagine going back to using those card catalogues in those many little drawers at the library? No.

In the same way, I can’t imagine turning back the clock on the emerging role of the new media with respect to any type of information and knowledge. It’s not going to happen. There are so many ways in which blogging and other new media can benefit the work of academics. Universities need to engage in conversations about what blogging means for academics, rather than trying to shut it down.

One reasons why academic blogging is discouraged is because it blurs the lines between “scientific” expert knowledge and other kinds of knowledge. Blogging does so by:

Ahhh. Now I see why blogging is so dangerous.

Without necessarily realizing it, we academic bloggers are engaging in a subversive activity, just by the act of blogging. Which brings me to…

The anti-oppressive academic blogger

I’m not in a good position to engage in activities that may be risky to my career, because in a few months, I’ll be a newly-minted PhD looking for an academic appointment. And to be honest, after reading about the dangers of academic blogging, I briefly considered playing it safe.

But hey! I’m a feminist. I’m an anti-oppressive social worker. My mission in life is to promote social justice and social change. If I wanted a safe, secure academic career, I would not be any of these things.

If I were to stop blogging (after barely starting) based on fear, I would be lacking in courage and integrity. Nothing is worth that price. I’d rather clean toilets for a living than undermine my integrity.

So damn the torpedoes.

I’m going to keep blogging. Any School of Social Work that I want to work in will see my blogging as an asset instead of a liability.

Links to articles used in this post

Attack of the career-killing blogs (Boynton, in Slate Magazine)
Do not fear the blog (Goetz, in the Chronicle)
Bloggers need not apply (Tribble, in the Chronicle)
They shoot messengers, don’t they? (Tribble, in the Chronicle)
Scholars who blog (Glenn, in the Chronicle)
Can blogging derail your career? (Chronicle; links to 7 articles on the topic)

© Silvia Straka and A Just Society, 2008


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2 responses »

  1. I really appreciate how you have laid out the potential problems with academic blogging. The case studies are telling (and a bit chilling). But I’m also of the damn the torpedoes school. We have a media revolution going on, with the ability for our ideas and voices to have more influence than ever in the history of humankind, but academia is so fixated upon preserving its modes of vetting and distributing knowledge that of course those on the vanguard will be attacked. Blogging does challenge the status quo. As I’ve said on my own blog, the day will come that no one will see published work as credible that is not coming out of and feeding back into the rich environment of digital and collaborative media that blogs typify. The good thing is that the naysayers will limit their discourse to their self-imposed confines, growing less and less influential over time. By the time that that peer reviewed study of the ills of blogging appears, it will be irrelevant. Those who blog establish their credentials in ways that everyone but academics seem to recognize–which aptly makes us question how fit academic credentialing is if it cannot figure out how to value the blogosphere.

  2. Pingback: The pressures and pleasures of publishing « A Just Society

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