Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 11, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

THE RISKS OF BLOGGING....Via Dan Drezner, the Chronicle of Higher Education has an essay by Ivan Tribble (a pseudonym) warning graduate students about the dangers of blogging. Here he recounts what happened when a search committee started reading applicants' blogs:

Professor Turbo Geek's blog...quickly revealed that the true passion of said blogger's life was not academe at all, but the minutiae of software systems, server hardware, and other tech exotica. It's one thing to be proficient in Microsoft Office applications or HTML, but we can't afford to have our new hire ditching us to hang out in computer science after a few weeks on the job.

Professor Shrill ran a strictly personal blog....It would never occur to the committee to ask what a candidate thinks about...what should be done to drivers who refuse to get out of the passing lane, what constitutes a real man, or how the recovery process from one's childhood traumas is going. But since the applicant elaborated on many topics like those, we were all ears. And we were a little concerned. It's not our place to make the recommendation, but we agreed a little therapy (of the offline variety) might be in order.

Finally we come to Professor Bagged Cat....We were irritated to find out, late in the process, that he had misrepresented his research, ostensibly to make it seem more relevant to a hot issue in the news lately....In this case, it was not the candidate's own blog, but that of a boasting friend, that revealed the truth.

Unsurprisingly, as Dan notes, blogger reaction to this essay has been caustic. But it's hard to know if the criticism is valid or not because Tribble is frustratingly vague about the real content of the blogs he writes about.

Was Professor Turbo Geek just a computer hobbyist? Or did PTG reveal that a typical day included 14 hours a day coding HTML followed by exclamations like "Christ, I wish I never had to read another Victorian poem again"?

Did Professor Shrill just vent about daily life? Or are we talking about dark and detailed confessions of homicidal urges aimed at close colleagues?

As for Bagged Cat, I'd venture to say that by boasting to a blogger about his illicit puffery, he failed not just the integrity test for a faculty position, but the IQ test as well.

However, perhaps because I'm neither a graduate student nor an aspiring member of the academy, what struck me was that Tribble's piece is actually more a cautionary tale for the rest of us than it is for prospective university professors. After all, universities at least claim to value creativity, free speech, and academic freedom even if Tribble's essay confirms that they do this more in the breach than in the observance. But what about the rest of us?

A garden variety commercial enterprise doesn't even pretend to value these things, and if you think HR departments don't google prospective applicants, I suspect you're sorely mistaken. As a result, if you write a blog under your own name it might well spell trouble on a whole variety of levels. A liberal boss might not want to hire a conservative. A straitlaced boss might decide not to hire a lesbian. A prudish boss might not hire someone who brags regularly about their sexual conquests. And fair or not, any boss is likely to be at least slightly hesitant about hiring someone who has a habit of telling the world about every little detail of their personal life. Some of this discrimination might be legal and some might not, but it hardly matters. You'll never know it happened.

Atrios wrote about this last week although he focused on a somewhat different aspect of public blogging and recommended that new bloggers think carefully before starting a blog under their real names. I suspect that's good advice. You may not be looking for a job now, but you probably will be someday and you might not be helped by having a widely known and easily googled public persona. And keep in mind that the Google cache is forever. Even deleting a blog doesn't necessarily erase every trace of it.

This advice may seem a bit overwrought, and maybe it is. But blogging is now a far more widely known phenomenon than it was when I started doing it three years ago, and even a harried suburban assistant bank manager is likely to have heard about it these days. If you decide to go ahead with it anyway, that's fine, but at least do it with your eyes wide open.

Kevin Drum 12:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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