"Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one." - Charles Mackay
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Blogging with Blackprof.com
By Ronald Roach

Frustrated by what they saw as a lack of expertise and informed opinion on "race, law and culture" by Internet bloggers, a group of nine African-American law professors launched in mid-September "Blackprof.com," a blog which lets the professors express their opinions and expertise while allowing readers to have their responses published on the blog. Spencer Overton, a Blackprof.com founder and a George Washington University law professor, says the blog helps fill an intellectual space left vacant by the growing community of American law professors who blog on legal issues.

"What became apparent to me was there were numerous law professor blogs, but none of them were dealing with issues of race, nor were they specifically addressing people of color," says Overton, an expert on campaign finance and election law.

The blogging phenomena has been compared to the pamphleteering of 18th-century America when activist-minded Americans, such as patriot and abolitionist Thomas Paine, cranked out on inexpensive printing presses the equivalent of newsletters to trumpet political and social causes. Just as pamphleteering gave ordinary Americans an opportunity to spread their ideas beyond their home communities, blogging has turned the Internet into a medium by which Americans not working in the mainstream media can cheaply share their thoughts and ideas with mass audiences. The key 21st-century innovation is that blogs invite feedback from their readers, and reader responses can be quickly posted and linked to original blog entries.

The idea to fill the race and law discussion void with a Black-focused blog initially sprung up in conversations between Overton and Paul Butler, a fellow George Washington University law professor, earlier this year, Butler says. This past summer, the pair decided to launch the blog and invited other noted Black law professors to join in as founders.

"It came into being after Hurricane Katrina. There was an obvious need for it," says Butler, recalling that readers were hungry to read about and discuss the issues generated by Katrina's devastation.

In addition to Overton and Butler, the law school professors responsible for launching Blackprof.com were Devon Carbado, at the University of California at Los Angeles; R. Richard Banks, at Stanford University; Sherrilyn Ifill, at the University of Maryland; Darren Hutchinson, at American University; Tracey L. Meares, at the University of Chicago; Adrien K. Wing, at the University of Iowa; and Dorothy E. Roberts, at Northwestern University. The blog, managed daily by a research assistant, cost less than $200 to launch, Spencer says.

Since Sept. 15, the date of the first blog entry, Blackprof.com has reached out to non-Black law professors, non-law professors and U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., to serve as guest bloggers. Daily commentary on Blackprof.com has run the gamut from observations on Black Entertainment Television's "Ultimate Hustler" show to views of the recent U.S. Supreme Court nominees to Rosa Parks tributes. While the blog's mandate allows for a wide range of topics, it has given its principals a platform to expound more informally and more personally on legal subjects than they usually allow themselves in the classroom and in the law journals that publish their articles.

Having recently served on the Carter-Baker Commission on Federal Election Reform, Overton values the freedom to express his dissenting views of the commission's recommendations on Blackprof.com and on www.carterbakerdissent.com. He says that while commission co-chairs--former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker--have had media outlets such as the New York limes op-ed page available to them to defend the recommendations, the Internet has been the primary medium over which Overton has aired his perspectives.

"Blogging's become a powerful communications tool. You can look at Dan Rather's forced retirement at CBS to the withdrawal of Harriet Miers as a nominee to the [U.S.] Supreme Court as examples of the impact that blogs are having," says Dr. Nat Irvin, a professor of future studies at Wake Forest University.

Irvin contends that blogs are serving as whistleblowers with regard to corporate, media and government conduct in the United States. He says blogs such as Blackprof.com are providing an inexpensive new way to discuss topics that typically receive scant national media coverage.

Butler and Overton note that while there are a number of blogs run by Blacks, very few are managed by working Black scholars. They believe their blog should attract readers who are eager to interact with African-American intellectuals, especially given that African-Americans over generations have long clamored for Black scholars to get engaged with the Black community. The blog attracts an average of 500 readers a day, according to Overton, who explains that he and the other principals hope to draw thousands daily like the most popular blogs run by well-known law professors.

"We've got a ways to go," to reach a daily audience in the tens of thousands, Overton says.
posted by R J Noriega at 8:00 AM | Permalink |


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