The Volokh Conspiracy, past and present


Thanks to readers who participated in the reader poll about the blog, and who commented in that thread as well. I noted in my earlier post that I had thoughts on the development of the blog over time, and especially the switch to the Washington Post. Here they are.

1) I think the switch to the Post has had some impact on the content of the blog. To be absolutely clear, the Post folks have exercised no editorial control or influence on us. They let us say whatever we want. But the new format encourages some kind of content and discourages other kinds. Or at least it has changed my own blogging. For example, the fact that you need to click on the link to read each individual post discourages very short posts, such as the occasional link to content elsewhere without lots of added commentary. Readers might be justifiably annoyed to have to click on a link just to wait for a post to load that merely gives them the opportunity to click on another link. In my case, at least, I now post links without commentary to Twitter instead of to the VC.

Similarly, the imprimatur of the venerable Washington Post changes the calculus of writing for a more general audience as compared to the old VC audience of law nerds and loyal VC readers. Because the Post is the Post, writings for a general audience are more likely to reach beyond the usual readership. I suspect that has encouraged some VC bloggers to write to a general audience more, as the audience can be a lot bigger. That makes a lot of sense.

On the other hand, the same change has pushed my blogging in the opposite direction. This probably makes no sense at all, but I find myself less inclined to write for a general audience now than before we moved. When we were at our own blog, ruminating about areas outside my specific areas of academic expertise felt like just that—ruminations, which could be expressed as tentative and subject to change. The Post's potentially broader audience has made such ruminations seem more formal. It's less water cooler chatter and more a publication such as an op-ed. I'm more willing to express tentative thoughts about big picture things than speak definitively about them. So for better or worse, that has led me to cut back on blogging outside of law nerd topics.

Granted, I've also had less time to blog for reasons unrelated to the switch to the Post. If I only have time for one blog post instead of five, I'll pick the new development in Fourth Amendment law over the broader commentary about big stories in the news. But the added formality of blogging at the Post has had an influence, at least in my perhaps-quirky approach to things.

2) The switch to the Post has hurt the quality of the comment sections, I think. Over time, the old VC had developed a commenting culture that was really pretty good. It was common for posts to be followed by engaging and thought-provoking comments at a pretty high level. That didn't happen by accident, certainly. At our old site, I spent a lot of often-frustrating hours moderating comment threads. Other bloggers also spent time moderating threads to varying degrees. But that commenting culture developed, and I think it was really useful. I think we've lost some of that, which I attribute to a few things: the Post's commenting software, the lack of a strong commenting tradition at major news media sites generally, and the relative absence of comment moderating. I'm personally glad that I haven't had to spend time moderating threads since we moved. And we still have some great commenters. At the same time, I worry that a decline in comment quality has made the blog less valuable.

UPDATED: I fiddled with this shortly after posting to improve accuracy.