For the past eight years, there was a friendly competition for the Best Criminal Law Blawg Post, which in 2012 was renamed the J-Dog Memorial Prize after our dear friend, Joel Rosenberg. In 2015, I wondered whether there would still be enough of a criminal law blawgosphere to sustain the contest. I decided there was.
As it turns out, there is not only life remaining in the criminal law blawgosphere, but some damn fine writing out there, as reflected in the nominations (as well as some truly excellent criminal law blogs that, inexplicably, didn’t muster a nomination but are still doing great work).
The point of the competition was to provide a way to promote writing by practitioners, by the people who did what others merely talked about, and who knew what they were saying. The next year, the problem was exacerbated by my being managing editor of Fault Lines.
It seems most likely that the robust criminal law community that once existed is gone. Whether that means the blawgers of old are no longer interested, or have burned out, or have said all they have to say, or didn’t get the return on investment they anticipated, I dunno. Each may have their own reasons, and some may overlap while others may be unique.
But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been great posts in the past year, even if the bulk nominated here come from what would best be described as my children. As managing editor of Fault Lines, I’m probably the only person who has read every post there. Each one is like a child to me, even though someone else wrote it. How does one pick between children?
This year, of course, there is no Fault Lines. There have been occasional blawg posts from the elders of the crim law blawgosphere, but only a few, and only occasionally. It’s not that these aren’t good and worthwhile posts, but you already know their work, read their brilliance, and don’t need me or this contest to spread the word.
And so, there will be no J-Dog Prize for 2017.
Is it over? It doesn’t have to be. I had lunch with LexBlog CEO Kevin O’Keefe recently, and we talked about whether the blawgosphere was dead. Had twitter sucked the life out of it, where short shallow quips replaced longer, deeper posts? There have been new people on twitter providing threads designed to appeal to the groundlings, confirm biases, gather likes and add nothing to our knowledge of criminal law. It’s easy, breezy, often wrong and invariably shallow. But it’s easy. And let’s face it, it’s also easy to consume, as it requires little to no thought.
What we thought is that the internet is ripe for the Fourth Wave of Blogging.
Real lawyers engaging on real subjects in an authentic fashion, for many lawyers and law firms, has gone the way of content marketing sold as a billboard for eyeballs by web development companies.
Rather than contributing to the discussion on the law and making a sincere effort to make the law more digestible for average folks, we have lawyers buying content from marketers to slap on a website with the only goal being search engine traffic.
Kevin’s perspective is somewhat different than mine, since he’s in the business of creating blogs whereas I just write stuff. He’s seeing what used to be called a blog turned into nothing more than a empty marketing tool, with shit content created by paid promoters never to be read by anyone. I don’t see this, not because Kevin is wrong, but because I don’t look. Ten thousand marketing blogs may well exist for the marketeers, but not for anyone else.
But there is a huge opportunity here. There are still people whose brains desire more than an insipid twit filled with emotional angst. There are people who want to think, to engage with others who want to think, and there are sadly few places to go to do so.
It takes a lot of work to write regularly. If you do it for some return on investment, you will be very disappointed and you won’t last long. But if you do it because writing is what you do, and if your writing reflects thought that others choose to read, and if you have a voice, a thick skin and something to say, then the field is wide open. Twitter is cute, but empty. There are people who want more than a quip. If you have more than that to offer, then write.
Start a blawg. Let me know about it. Let others know about it. If you have the chops, word will spread. Keep it up. Engage with serious people about serious things. Recognize that there was a blawgosphere before you got here, but also know that old subjects and issues keep arising again. For people who didn’t see the ubiquitous discussions the first time, or second, or tenth time around, they’re brand new.
The blawgosphere may not be vital, as it once was, but whether or not it’s dead is up to all of us. And if it’s dead, thought dies with it, and we’re left to the insipid twitter stars whose appeals to emotion will replace nuance, thought and serious debate. Don’t let that happen. All you have to do to prevent this catastrophe is to start thinking, start writing and stick with it.
Welcome, Fourth Wave blawgers. This is your moment.