Plenty of academic bloggers have fretted over whether they should be blogging or not, or whether other academics should blog or not. Over when it is safe to blog in one’s career, and when it isn’t. Over whether or not to blog under one’s own name or a pseudonym. Clearly, my own choices on this site indicate my own opinions.
Obviously, I’m willing to blog under my own name. However, I don’t, for example, blog my in-process writing or research. I would rather not be held to ideas that I’m thinking through seriously but incompletely. This is merely a personal preference–plenty of academics who I know and respect use their blogs to think through their most serious research, and derive tangible benefits (like feedback) working through their ideas in a public forum. That said, blog posts that I thought of as “throw-aways” have led me to pursue new ideas seriously. There is a lot of generative and inventional power in forcing yourself to come up with something to say.
I began blogging when three other UT Austin graduate students and I founded Viz., a visual rhetoric site that lives on today and attracts approximately 16,000 visits per month. In my capacity as a founding blogger at Viz., I tended to post quick things, without much analysis. This is in contrast to the current blogging style of Viz., which dictates much more developed posts than what we started out with. (I have mixed feelings about that development, which has occurred across many different blogs. The newer style of blogging on Viz. is much more intellectually robust than how we started out, but now I think the posts are simply too long. Blogs are supposed to be quick. There must be a happy medium somewhere. Of course, I’m guilty of the same thing here . . . Nevermind.)
Recently I received a little more confirmation of why blogging is worthwhile, and why it is important to blog on current topics relevant to your own expertise. Shortly after Obama’s election to the presidency I shot off a quick blog post basically wondering how political cartoonists would draw President Obama without invoking the history of racist cartooning. At the time the post was picked up and promoted by a number of other blogs and news sources, most notably a National Public Radio affiliate in Minnesota. It’s important for me to admit that my post was neither very polished nor very thoroughly thought out. But by being timely, accessible in its language, and provocative in its questions, the post has garnered a lot of positive attention, which I have to assume is a good thing for me as well. At least, it can’t be a bad thing. (For those in the humanities who lament our irrelevance in the broader public, blogging on topics germane to both your expertise and current events seems like the beginning of a remedy, to my eyes.) Now, years after that post, another NPR reporter has been contacting the DWRL (host of Viz.) to inquire about that post. If nothing else, blogging can give you the occasional confirmation that your work in the academy matters.
I consider my blogging activities to be a service to the profession and discipline, and that’s how I list them on my CV. Even though I am a big advocate of blogging, I think that portraying most blogging activities as scholarship is a pretty tough sell. Finally, I’ll say that I follow Jaron Lanier‘s ethic when it comes to blogging–if you’re going to blog it, own it, and don’t hide behind anonymity like this guy: