On blogging (4)

Interesting discussions starting over at Blog Them Out of the Stone Age and Cliopatria on ‘Ivan Tribble’s’ article ‘Bloggers Need Not Apply’. Sitrep – Tribble is the nom de plume of a professor at a ‘small Midwest liberal arts college’. The original article was about how job applicants for a post in his department had been disadvantaged by the evidence of their blogging. After receiving the predictable backlash, Tribble’s next article was about how, even if he’d been wrong, we still need a debate about academic blogging.
What was wrong with these bloggers? Tribble’s argument seemed to have two parts. One was that he didn’t get blogging. The other was that the applicants had, online, revealed aspects of themselves or their research that disadvantaged their applications.
The first is, I think, an understandable response from those who haven’t linked into this world. And it is a matter of taste. I find this a useful tool – not least for enabling academic discussion at a point in the year when my department is deserted. But it might not work for everyone. I don’t force my use of powerpoint and video on my colleagues. They don’t force their use of yellowing OHP’s on me. We get on fine.
The second is an area more complex than Tribble allows. As Mark Grimsley’s passionate response suggests, the whole point of blogging is that the personal will creep into the public. And I would argue this happens in any published piece of work in any case. If you are easily findable (and the great and awful thing about having a distinctive name is that I am very easily googleable), then you probably do want to keep an eye on what people can learn about you from the net. I haven’t included a lot of personal stuff on this blog – but that has more to do with traditional English reticence than with a desire to police my image. On the other hand – in a much more important area than tenure location – I did once get our administrator to change my online photo on the departmental site when I knew a potential date was scoping me out. (Is this a damaging confession, Professor Tribble?). No, you don’t want to see the original.
An important but usually unacknowledged part of the academic selection process has always been gossip and informal inquiries about personality. If you have a reputation as a difficult colleague, it will probably get to the appointments board. But since they are more bothered about how much research and funding you will generate, they might be willing to overlook that. I suspect that this is probably true of the Google search as well. Name an academic without a personality which is at least slightly strange or socially dysfunctional… I’m not sure those people go into academia in the first place.
It would be an awful thing if Tribble’s article put off a generation of younger academics who might be tempted to dip their toes into the blogging waters. Come on in, guys and gals. Just keep your bathing costumes on.


One Response to On blogging (4)

  1. As someone who keeps a personal blog, partly as a means to keep in touch with farflung friends and family, I’ve been thinking of starting a seperate blog for academic matters. I’m not sure how well the two would operate in the same place – my non-academic mates aren’t that interested in what they mostly regard as my tedious obsessions, whilst I don’t know how far other WWI historians need to know about my existential angst and shoe-shopping habits.

    But does this undermine the purpose of blogging which is precisely to have a more personal, informal forum in which the boundaries are not as clear as they have perhaps traditionally been? What do people think?

    (greatly enjoying everything on here, btw).

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