The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
As you can see, we've moved from the Washington Post, where we've blogged since early 2014, to Reason. Good to see you here, and we hope you'll keep visiting us here often! We wanted to say a few things about our move, to satisfy those curious about it and to avoid the need for people to speculate about our reasons.
- First, we wanted to thank our Post hosts very much for nearly four years—mostly very happy years—blogging at their site.
We benefited greatly from the Post's deservedly excellent reputation, and drew many new readers. We also benefited greatly from the technical support provided by Ben Sumner, and the work of all the editors at their copyediting desk. We much appreciate all that the Post and its people have done for us and for the blog.
- Why, then, the move? The chief reason was that we wanted to be freely available to the broadest range of readers.
When we first moved to the Post, we knew that there was going to be a paywall (despite our attempts to negotiate around it). But our understanding was that the paywall would be quite porous, with (1) free access via RSS, Twitter, and Facebook, (2) free access to .edu/.gov/.mil readers, and (3) a generous number of free views each month for everyone. This year, though, all three elements of this have changed, and the paywall has gotten much tighter. This means that many of our most loyal readers would be unable to access the site without a Post subscription. And it means that many people whom we'd like to attract to our site might feel priced out of it.
This doesn't work for us. We value those readers who visit our site occasionally (usually via Google News or search), as well as Post subscribers who come to our blog through the Post. But we especially value our loyal, longtime readers, who are particularly likely to trust and enjoy our work. And it's important to us that law students, college students, young lawyers, and others have free, easy access to the analysis and discussion on our site.
It's such a delight to go to a conference or a law school talk and have people tell me that they've been reading the blog regularly: It makes me feel that all our writing effort has been worthwhile. We want to keep them and develop new regular readers—and a paywall would largely stop that from working. Moving to Reason lets us do these things, while still partnering with a respected media organization that we have long admired.
Now we certainly understand the Post's need to make money; we had hoped that the earlier, non-paywall advertising-supported model would have sufficed for that, but it sounds like the Post's business judgment has changed. Still, we have to make our own judgment, and that judgment has led to a parting of the ways.
- There was also a second reason for our move: editorial independence. The only thing more important to us than attracting new readers and keeping our old ones is making sure that we can write what we want, in the way that we think is right.
This includes—controversially in newspaper circles—the right to accurately and completely quote material from cases and controversies, including when the material contains vulgar words. We ourselves don't use vulgarities in the material we compose ourselves, because of our own editorial judgment. If (for instance) we're talking about Cohen v. California (1971), the leading First Amendment case in which the Court upheld a man's right to wear a jacket saying "Fuck the Draft," we don't want to have to say "F— the Draft." (Some readers may recognize this as the use-mention distinction.)
Such obscuring of the facts strikes me as untrue to our mission as academics and writers to report things as they are. True, in a sense it's symbolic: People can usually understand what "s—" or "c—" means. But the flip side is that it's hard for me to see what value such redaction adds. And the symbolism is important to me: I want our readers to understand that they're getting the truth, not the truth edited down to protect some people's sensibilities.
More importantly, we want the decision whether or not to redact to be ours, not the Post's. This is so for the familiar vulgarities, but also as to similar decisions about what to do with quoting incidents that involve offensive epithets, allegedly offensive team names and band names, allegedly improper use of pronouns to refer to various people, and much more. Once we acknowledge that it's proper to constrain our accurate reporting about one kind of offensive word, how would we effectively be able to defend our right to judge how to report on incidents involving other words?
To its credit, the Post gave us basically unlimited editorial independence for the first three years of our time together; and even this year, the constraints that we've seen have focused solely on the editing out of quoted vulgarities. But we felt that the change was taking us in the wrong direction, and that we needed to insist on our editorial independence even on this matter. And while, again, we respect the Post's right to control what happens on its platform, it led us to realize that we needed to leave.
Now I appreciate that some might see this as too rigid an insistence on maximum independence; I think this aspect of the decision was sound, but there's always the risk that it was mistaken, and that more flexibility was called for on this point. But in any event, I'm sure we were correct as to our main reason for the move—the need to leave the paywall behind.
- Fortunately, our sense of Reason is that we'll have no worry on either of these matters. Reason has long been paywall-free, and we expect it to continue this way; we will likely never even need to try negotiating an exemption from the paywall, because there won't be a paywall. It helps to team up with an organization that has the same outlook as we do on these matters in the first place. Likewise, Reason seems committed to respecting our editorial independence, and not requiring us to constrain our reporting on what was actually said.
- The one factor that did not affect our judgment at all was the revenue from our blog. We can't discuss it in detail, but I can say two things: (a) Our revenue per hour from the blog has always been tiny compared to our normal salaries (and we are fortunate to have regular day jobs that let us blog despite that). (b) We don't expect to get any more money from being at Reason than being at the Post—indeed, we may well get materially less.
But we're not in it for the money; we're in it for the eyeballs, for editorial freedom, and for the connection that we develop with our readers. That's our true income.
- Finally, shifting the conversation from our old partners to our new ones: We hope our readers keep in mind that Reason's editorial stance is not identical to ours. Some of us are pretty seriously libertarian, some are more conservative, some are moderate, many are eclectic. Some of us (such as me) might even be called squishes. But Reason editors know that going in, and are on board with our ideological independence. Just as we were never constrained to follow the Post's editorial positions, so we aren't constrained to follow Reason's. Our readers, as always, may agree or disagree with us—but we likewise want them to know what we are (and what we aren't) when they come to the blog.
With that, we look forward to many happy years together, and again thank the Post very much for the happy years that we had with them!