A Career, in Blogging

by Kevin Jon Heller

I published my first post on Opinio Juris on February 10, 2006. That was almost nine years ago, and although I do not have exact figures, I estimate that I’ve written around 1,800 posts and close to a million words on the blog since. And my lifetime numbers are actually even a bit higher — beginning in August 2004, I blogged for a while with my friend Tung Yin, who teaches at Lewis & Clark. (You can find my first posts ever, if you are so inclined, here.) I only joined the University of Georgia as an assistant professor in June 2004 — which means that I have been a blogger for all but two months of my academic life.

I had no idea when I joined Opinio Juris that I would still be plugging away nine years later. I didn’t even set out to join it. It just kind of happened, as so many good things do. I stumbled across the blog in my first year at Georgia, was instantly outraged by Julian’s posts on the Iraq war, and started leaving long and often somewhat intemperate comments on the blog. (I know, you’re shocked.) This went on for a while, until Peggy finally wrote to me and asked if I wanted to guest-blog for a couple of weeks. I thought that sounded like fun, so I pre-wrote a few posts and off I went. I must not have been too tendentious in those early posts, because not long after my guest-stint ended, Peggy, Chris, and Julian (to his credit!) asked me to join permanently.

I said yes without hesitation — against the wishes of my Dean, and against the advice of most of my senior colleagues. It wasn’t that they didn’t take blogs seriously. (I’m not sure what they thought of them.) But they all agreed that blogging so early in my career was a terrible idea, because it would distract me from more traditional scholarship. Their opposition only motivated me further: if everyone was against it, I figured, blogging had to be a good idea. And the rest, as they say…

As I tell anyone who asks, that was the best professional decision I ever made. Blogging did not — and has never — undermined my “ordinary” scholarly productivity. Quite the opposite. I have always used blogging to ease into traditional writing; churning out a short post gets me going. There’s a reason Sartre mentioned the writer’s blank page as the quintessential example of existential nausea; ain’t nothing going on that page unless the writer puts it there. So writing begets more writing for me — not less.

And then there is the exposure. I would be lying if I said that didn’t appeal to me. Like most academics, I fool myself into thinking I have something to add to the conversation about… well, pretty much everything. I started blogging because I hated the year-long gap between an event or an issue and the publication of a law-review article. I wanted to get my ideas out immediately, hear others’ ideas (even Julian’s!), and engage in some pointed but friendly debate. And for that blogging was the only game in town. Blogs are also, of course, far more widely read than traditional law-review articles. I don’t have any hard data, but I’m guessing the ratio of people who have read my blogging to those who have read my books or articles is at least 100:1 — and probably considerably higher than that. It is almost impossible to go anywhere in the world without someone coming up, introducing themselves, and saying how much they love Opinio Juris. (Not my blogging. That’s less common.) Pretty amazing — and deeply gratifying.

So, too, with the personal benefits. As others have mentioned, the blog has created a genuine community among international lawyers throughout the US (of particular importance to me, having been an ex-pat for more than eight years now) and around the world. Some of my closest personal friends began life as virtual friends. An example: Marko Milanovic. He and I probably exchanged a few hundred emails on all manner of issues (especially after he helped create the fantastic EJIL: Talk! blog) before we first met in person. And, of course, virtual friends can be real friends. A perfect example: I consider Julian a good friend, and to this day I have never met him in the non-virtual world. Never. And that’s not because he’s ducking me. (I think.)

There is, of course, a downside to being known through the blog. The most common reaction I get from people I meet for the first time: “wow, you’re much nicer than I thought you’d be.” I am nice — but I’m not always nice on the blog. That’s been one of the few downsides of blogging. There is a reason I’m such a prolific blogger (cough, Duncan, cough): I blog when something makes me angry, and lots of things make me angry. Anger can make for good blogging — but it can also all-too-easily lead to unnecessary nastiness. I think I’ve gotten much better at maintaining an even keel over the years, particularly the last few, but I still find it difficult. So if I have ever offended you, I sincerely apologize. My only defense: I wouldn’t have been unnecessarily mean if I didn’t think you were worth being mean to. (Kind of like the pretty girl or handsome boy you punched on the playground in third grade because you secretly liked them.)

In any case, I’ve rambled enough. It has been such an honor to be part of the blog these past nine years; I owe Peggy, Chris, and Julian a debt that I will never be able to repay. And it has been such a pleasure to watch blogging grow from an interesting hobby to an integral part of the academic vocation. My proudest blogging moment to date (other than being subpoenaed by Chevron) remains being the first blogger ever cited by the ICC. I don’t think there are too many international-law scholars left who reject the idea that blogging is a legitimate form of scholarship, and I think the academic impact of blogging will only continue to grow. At the very least, it’s been a long time since a famous scholar called the blog “trash,” as one did many years ago!

Thank you, dear readers, for paying attention to Opinio Juris these past 10 years. I have no doubt that the blog will endure for another decade — and I hope to be writing a follow-up to this post in 2025. Even after 1,800 posts and nearly a million words, I still love blogging as much as I did when I first wrote about a pair of acquittals at the ICTR.

And who knows? Maybe in the next 10 years Julian and I will even find time to have that beer we are always talking about…

PS: Uber-editor An Hertogen says that I have written 1,702 posts. Pretty good estimate on my part!

http://opiniojuris.org/2015/01/15/career-blogging/

One Response

  1. Kevin,

    While blog posts do not require the same level of citation as ordinary scholarship, I think you will agree that the more controversial points should have at least some level of citation to back them up. Now, you write: ‘The most common reaction I get from people I meet for the first time: “wow, you’re much nicer than I thought you’d be.” I am nice’.

    Well, I suppose the first point *could* be true depending upon *just how* unnice the hitherto unmet people thought you were going to be, but do you have anything to support your second point? I had waited before posting as I had assumed Jordan was going to provide a couple of references to articles on SSRN.

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