Dec 11, 2013

A (Partial) Defense of the Blawg 100

2 Comments · Posted by Robert Ambrogi in General

It’s silly season again, when 100 or so legal bloggers begin beating the bushes for your votes as a readers’ favorite in the annual ABA Journal Blawg 100. With this blog having been retired last year to the Blawg 100 Hall of Fame, I am safely exempt from campaigning. However, I wanted to weigh in on the value of the Blawg 100.

Over at Simple Justice, Scott Greenfield is correct when he cautions against taking this all too seriously. I could not agree more, especially when Scott points to Josh Gilliland’s wonderfully tongue-in-cheek video appealing for your votes as an example of how to approach one’s selection with the humor it deserves.

But Scott also points to U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf’s  post at Hercules and the Umpire calling the Blawg 100 “positively moronic.” Reluctant as I am to publicly disagree with a federal judge — even one far outside my jurisdiction — I do have to disagree, at least partially.

To corrupt an old phrase, I see the Blawg 100 as like a candy bar — half sweetness and half nuts. The Blawg 100 is really two separate things. First is the Blawg 100 itself. This is a list of blogs compiled by the ABA Journal staff. It reflects the legal blogs that they consider to be among the best or most useful in various categories.

To my mind, this is an extremely valuable editorial service to the legal community. Invariably, when I speak about blogging at conferences or CLE programs, lawyers who are new to reading (or writing) legal blogs ask how they can dip their toes into the sea of blogs available to them. Just as invariably, I point them to the Blawg 100 as a primer on the quality and variety of legal blogs.

As an editorial service, this is comparable to a photography site listing its recommendations of the best cameras or an audio site listing its recommendations for headphones or speakers. Are these lists subjective? Absolutely. Are they underinclusive? Of necessity they are. But do they provide a valuable service? Unquestionably. The ABA Journal staff is made up of smart people and they make smart choices in the blogs they list. With every year’s Blawg 100, I discover new blogs to read and follow.

Then comes the nuts half. Having made their editorial decisions and compiled their useful list, the Journal editors then throw these blogs to the wolves, running a poll that asks readers to vote for their favorites among the 100 blogs. This process quickly gets ugly, with bloggers writing blog posts, sending out emails, and doing who knows what else to implore their readers, their relatives, and anyone in their contact list to vote for them.

The useful editorial process that makes up the first part of the Blawg 100 gets turned into a useless beauty contest. The polling reflects absolutely nothing about the quality or value of a particular blog. It reflects only the blogger’s talent for churning up votes. It puts otherwise respectable legal professionals in the unseemly position of competing against each other for a score that says nothing about their legal or blogging skills.

I understand that the ABA Journal needs to pay its bills and that traffic helps do that. No doubt, this is a huge traffic generator, what with all these bloggers urging all their readers to click all over the ABA Journal website. And maybe this “nuts” part of the Blawg 100 covers the cost of the “sweet” part. But I would prefer it to be a purely editorial process of selection. I trust the ABA Journal’s editors. I put negligible weight in an Internet voting campaign.

So if you are on the list, congratulations. I believe it is an honor to be included. But as for the readers’ polling, I hope you will follow Scott Greenfield’s advice to have fun with it, but don’t take it too seriously.

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2 comments

  • Molly McDonough · December 11, 2013 at 11:54 am

    Thanks for this Bob. I couldn’t agree with you more, and not just because you said we are smart and you trust us. We thoroughly enjoy the public participation that has fun with the public poll parts…especially the quirky tongue-and-cheek campaigns. And we are touched when bloggers on the list humbly point to others they think are more or just as deserving. We could certainly do without the all-too serious campaigning, including mean-spirited letters and insults. We hope more folks like Legal Geeks have fun with our Blawg 100 list and use the polling part as a way to celebrate high-quality law blogging. We’ll look for ways to encourage that going forward.

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  • Gene · December 11, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    Bob, I couldn’t agree more. I feel that they should elect the winners without asking for reader votes – as this typically turns into a shouting contest. On a different note, I have found some interesting blogs through the Blawg 100 directory in the recent years that I’ve been introduced to attorney blogs.

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