August 15, 2012
Changing Conventions of What Counts as Serious
Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Orin Kerr (GWU Law) links to a fascinating interview with Tom Goldstein, the Supreme Court advocate who started the SCOTUSblog many years ago in the early days of the blogosphere.
Goldstein's comments on the evolution of SCOTUSblog throw into sharp relief how the online world is gradually creating new institutions that chafe against established conventions of what is professionally or academically serious. I am not kidding -- 50,000 visitors to the site a day, including hundreds or even thousands from inside the Supreme Court itself. In comparison, Harvard Law Review has an annual subscriber base of 2,000 total. (Goldstein mentions this in passing--the absolute pitch perfect way to deliver news like this.)
Another interesting point made by Goldstein was how SCOTUSblog was originally started as a vehicle for marketing Goldstein's firm. Yet, as readership took hold, he completely abandoned any attempt to directly advance the interests of his firm through editorial content--the benefits of cultivating a perception of objectivity were very indirect but ultimately much greater. So journalistic firewalls have been erected. If his firm is handling a case before the Court, or making a filing, it not discussed on the blog by anyone from the firm. Outside commentators handle any relevant commentary. Objectivity and thoroughness are the goals.
SCOTUSblog has also gravitated away from analysis done by students at Stanford and Harvard, where Goldstein runs Supreme Court clinics, to analysis by leading subject matter experts. (In the legal academy, we are often clamoring for peer review -- well, Goldstein has acheived it.) SCOTUSblog now runs well-attended symposia.
Folks, SCOTUSblog has become a highly influential institution that is closely followed by the Supreme Court itself. And it started as a blog. In fact, it still is a blog. Based purely on reach and influence, it is more serious than any center operating out of a law school.
Perhaps it is time for us to be more openminded about what "counts" as serious. What Goldstein has created looks very serious to me. (H/T to Orin Kerr for directing me to this excellent video.)
[posted by Bill Henderson]