I set about blogging with all the wrong moves. In 2005, I was a columnist for a Connecticut legal newspaper, where I had written for five years. Mike Cernovich and I struck up a friendship. When he called to ask if I wanted to blog with him at Crime and Federalism, I had to ask what a blog was. I took to the medium, enjoying the instant gratification. It was frustrating as a columnist to see my opinions in print but once a week. In the blawgosphere, I could write as often as I liked.
But I brought a newspaperman's sensibility to the world of blogs. I simply didn't care about such things as cross links, comments or all the other brand-advancing strategies common to the more successful blogs. I was also arrogant as Hell. I had grown accustomed to having several thousand readers each week without any effort on my part. I had also learned that being opinionated requires a thick skin. So I railed, ranted and raved and learned to say, simply, "thanks for reading," to friends and foes alike.
When I left Crime and Federalism I assumed readership would follow. It didn't really. And when I developed a readership of my own it required a lot of care and feeding, I pulled the page. There was something odd and unseemly about it all. I decided to retire from opinion writing. Of course, that did not last.
So I am back now, and intend to remain. I love writing, and I love writing about the law, gardens, the weather and my reaction to the law. I have a few readers now, and an emerging body of critics. One of the critics is a good friend, Scott Greenfield, of Simple Justice. His brand is curmudgeon, and in several short years he's risen to the top of legal blogs. He's been chiding me lately for writing too much about my feelings, and today came out with a full-length piece that comes down to the following: Suck it up. Let it go. Don't be a cry baby.
I generally don't write about other blog pages. That is a mistake in terms of drawing readers. People generally like reading about themselves. I write about my reaction to things, whether they be issues in the world at large, or tumult coursing within. My sense of the Internet as a community is inchoate, and I am only just now trying to reckon what this new state of nature entails. But Scott's post today and the comments on it stung. Sometimes a mirror will do that to you, reducing you to the caricature you had hoped to avoid becoming.
So I will return the favor for Scott and hold a mirror all my own.
People write for different reasons, but common to them all is a desire to express themselves. This desire is laden with a desire for recognition. Each of us promotes the brand within. We are all in the business of marketing. Even those who write about anti-marketing market. The brand that "I am above it all" is merely another form of asserting a self in need of recognition.
I enjoy Simple Justice for its range. Scott can be counted on regularly, and perhaps formulaicly, to post about several topics each morning. In the world of SEM, many bases are covered daily. He links to other sites copiously. He is generous in recognizing the contributions of others. He writes about topics from coast to coast and engages almost all commentors in ongoing discussion. Although he is not an aggregator, his is the only legal blog I check each day. He can be counted on to note most issues of consequence. He has sought out to become the very thing he mocks, a social media thought leader. From the perch he mocks the self-proclaimed social media gurus. Implicit in the critique is a truth he'll deny: He scorns them because they aspire to acquire the influence he painstakingly acquired. It remains, for all of us, a jungle out there.
Having said all this, I still love the guy. We had a long talk yesterday about his thing with the so-called Slackoisie and the social media types. I understand him better now and respect his disgust over the dishonesty many folks on the Internet display. It is easy to pretend from behind an anonymous screen. Scott cares about integrity, and has, either by happenstance or design, found himself playing the role of Cato the Elder in this very new media.
But Cato was just one member of the Roman Senate. There was room for other voices, and other points of view. I think Scott respects that, but the need to mock and scorn diminishes his otherwise strong voice. A scoffer's intoxication with sarcasm entertains for a while, but it does not sustain.
So I break with Scott over whether it is appropriate, or even interesting, to write about personal reactions to cases, or, as he puts it, "fee-ee-ee-lings." No, Scott, I don't need my tummy rubbed. And I accept with sorrow your scorn. We each deal with our issues in ways that serve us. For me, writing exorcises demons that would otherwise fester. When I played at rage I found that the demons were really walking me and that I was on the wrong end of the leash.
But what do I know? I'm not ranked on any register of leading blogs. My blog is not syndicated or for sale on Kindle. I don't get invited places to speak about blogging. I wouldn't mind if these things happened, of course. I just haven't cared enough about them to pay attention to these things. But my eyes are opening, and I see I've missed a lot pretending to be a print journalist in an electronic age.
Blogging is different, I finally learned. It requires different skills. One thing I've learned is to take greater risks on what I will write about. So I write about my failures. Some folks read it with appreciation, which encourages me both in that I realize that I am not alone in being far from perfect, but also builds bridges to folks I would not otherwise have known. Call me a pussy, if you care to, but I like that.
Scott, you are king of the hill. Enjoy the crown. But don't scorn the rest of us for not wearing it. One size does not fit all.
Note: Res Ipsa Loqutor at Simple Justice. Show some feeling, Scott?