The Unemployed Blogger
The Juan Cole case presents what I think is a central question in academia right now: can blogging derail your career? After I read the article, “Can Blogging Derail Your Career?” (Chronicle of Higher Education, 28 Jul 2006) I couldn’t help but go back to the title. I don’t think in any way blogging derailed Juan Cole’s career. The content of his blog, although controversial, did not seem to differ that much from his traditionally published writing. Ultimately, Juan Cole already has a career - he was just looking for change of venue so to speak. The fact that he was denied tenure at Yale because of what he wrote in his blog, probably only brought more attention to him and his ideas.
As Bill Turkel pointed out though, what about non-Juan in our midst? I think blogging can definitely derail a career, or at least be a setback for someone who is not established. If you are going to blog under your own name and have not yet “arrived” you need to be careful what you write about. As seen in the Juan Cole case, employers have the power to hire or not hire based on what you write. If your ideas conflict with an organization’s mandate chances are you may find yourself overlooked.
Some may argue that controversial opinions expressed in a blog are no different than those written in a scholarly journal or book. Fundamentally, yes, the ideas are the same, but it is the ease and speed of accessing the information over the internet which makes blogging tenuous ground.
Josh Greenberg in his piece “On Leaving an Academic Blog Fallow,” Epistemographer (1 Sep 2006), comments that you are what you publish. He believes that writing, and especially writing a blog, is an act of identity construction. This is probably close to the truth. When people read your writing, more specifically your blog, they get a pretty good idea of who you are and what you stand for. Or do they? I think there must be some discussion of public versus private life. If a historian wants to blog about non-scholarly ideas, then they have to expect a certain response from academia. This is not to say that I don’t think you should blog about personal things, or insert humour or creativity into your writing. I think that you just have to consider your public and private personas.
What is the answer to this conundrum? A professional and private blog? The more I learn in Digital History the more I think this is not really the answer; there seems to be so maybe ways that people(employers ) can tie you to your blog even if you are writing under an assumed name. Truly I don’t really see the point in non-professional blogging anyway. Although, this isn’t quite what I mean either. For example, I have a friend who is off traveling far and wide( lucky boy) and posts on his blog to let family and friends hear about his great adventures. I’m glad he does it! I have to differentiate this type of personal blogging from the kind of posts which list what one’s dog had for breakfast. Do millions of people really care about what my dog ate for breakfast? I don’t think so. Perhaps I am in the minority about the personal blog. My point is though, that no matter what you write for public consumption on the web, you have to be aware that someone, somewhere is reading it and forming an opinion.
In terms of derailing a career, even with valid arguments and ideas( as in the case of Cole) I think the historian has to decide what she wants to accomplish by blogging. Yes, the job, the career, the tenure are important, but what are your willing to compromise to achieve these things? Will you have to compromise if you are truly creating your professional identity through your blogging? Ultimately, an increasing number of historians are reading and creating blogs and if your ideas are influential or important, chances are someone will be interested in reading what you have to say. Essentially, I see academic blogging as a giant networking opportunity, which allows for constructive discourse between historians and the distribution of historical ideas to a larger audience.