Peter Tillers said some nice things about this blog on his own blog, and I appreciate the kind words (and, in general, the warm welcome this blog has had from many other legal bloggers). But he also asks a good question: "If blogs are not worthy legal scholarship, what motivates the authors of LawCulture to blog? Are they after fortune? Fame? A judgeship? Power and influence? Catharsis? Sainthood? Community?Liberty? Some combination of these things (and other things?)?"
I can't answer this for any of my co-bloggers-- I hope they'll try to answer for themselves-- and I'm not even sure I can even answer on my own behalf. For me, this blog is an experiment, which I may yet abandon. Like many people steeped in academia and "old media," I did not really notice the rise of blogs until about a year ago, and then I watched from the sidelines with some bemusement, wondering where all this funny blog business was going.
I joined this blog partly because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Beyond that, "community" comes closest to the answer: the blogosphere has at least the potential to be virtual water cooler, virtual faculty lounge, and virtual conference rolled into one, a place where it is possible to throw out ideas and questions far too preliminary to find their way into an article or book, and get some quick feedback.
Perhaps even more to the point, I have two very young children, and I rarely get out to see a movie, much less to conferences and the like. Blogging offers one possible way to have-- in virtual space-- some of the conversations I can't currently have in real space.
As a side note, this goes back to the question of why there are not more women bloggers. For the reasons I just mentioned, one might think blogging would be particularly appealing to women whose family responsibilities make other forms of professional hobnobbing impractical. But this seems not to have been so, on the whole (though on this blog, women outnumber men). Perhaps that is because one downside of the blog-as-virtual-water-cooler is that gossip and misunderstanding can also spread all too quickly here, making the blogosphere feel far less "safe" than the average faculty lounge, where civility reigns? (Civility reigns in our faculty lounge, anyway, but I suppose I can't speak for many others).
But all this also implicitly raises a different question I've been thinking about: what *do* blogs do? How much, and in what ways, do they "matter"?
I know, that's already an impossibly large question: there are now many different kinds of blogs, and different blogs and blog genres may play different roles. So let me break it down to a very specific question, though this is getting further afield from what Peter Tiller's asked: how much, and in what ways, do highly politicized blogs matter ?
I've already had, several times, the unsettling and distinctly unpleasant experience of becoming a temporary "topic" in the right wing "blogosphere." (Sometimes my own fault for putting my foot in my mouth, etc., but nontheless no fun at all). Increasingly, my sense is that there is a right wing blogosphere that is at least moderately well-organized and self-conscious, looking for opportunities to make political hay. (Ditto, perhaps, for a more liberal blogosphere, though I have not had personal experience with its effects.) But take an example: there are a couple of right-wing blogs that dedicate themselves to "monitoring" the LA Times, which they consider a wildly left-wing periodical. One of the LAT's own journalists, Pulitzer winner Michael Hiltzik, writes a blog on the LA Times site, and he recently tried to use his blog to respond to what he saw as the many distortions about the LAT on one of those sites. Result? A new round of irate blog attacks on the LAT and Hiltzik himself-- and poor Hiltzik's own blog was flooded by hostile commenters, many barely civil.
My question: does this sort of partisan blogosphere criticism "matter"? When you're the subject of it, it's unpleasant, of course, but beyond that, does it affect the broader political discourse in a significant way? Should someone who finds himself on the receiving end of partisan blogosphere invective console himself with the thought that not that many people will actually pay attention to it, and his fifteen seconds of infamy will soon end? Or should he-- and everyone who shares his general views-- be very, very afraid? And if so, what to do? Join the slugfest? Enter a witness protection program? Something else?