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Academic Blogging: Against

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I’ve been spending some time re-thinking my online presence lately.  (Obviously the past few posts resemble these thoughts.)  More often – and probably because the job market is in the near future (1.5 years is near in grad school!) – I wonder if my posts will actually come back to haunt me.  Years ago, I deleted my first blog (which was started, incidentally, about a week after the following article was published).  That first blog was a mandatory assignment in my first grad class (thanks to Jeff Rice) and I don’t think I realized how seriously I should have taken it.  Sure I posted my weekly assignments, but I also posted a lot of crap (a habit I’ve yet to outgrow, but I’m getting better…).  The thing about that blog, though, was that I didn’t realize the “stakes” in blogging (are there any?).  My peers and I have gone back and forth on this for semesters now, some have dropped their, stopped posting, or have blogged anonymously.  For me, my blogging presence is still a confusing area–I like it because I get to write in a more relaxed way, and still argue/communicate as if I were still in seminars.  Anyway, I’ve reproduced an article against blogging (or at least it provides some ‘insider’ warnings).

Friday, September 2, 2005
First Person
They Shoot Messengers, Don’t They?

By Ivan Tribble

A lot can happen when you try to help some people land tenure-track jobs.

In my first column, I gave a sharp warning to bloggers on the academic job market, based on how I saw blogs detract from some candidates in a recent search at my college. A blog was not the only negative in any of their cases, but it was usually a negative.

While not a scientific sampling by any means, what I saw suggested a trend worth warning others about. The ensuing outcry against my words of warning — both on The Chronicle’s discussion forums and on some blogs — gave me pause. Clearly I had offended a number of bloggers and hurt some feelings. For that I offer my apology to any who will accept it.

But I still stand by my basic point.

Some people rightly took me to task for condemning blogging as a whole on the basis of a few practitioners. Some sites offered a corrective response, sharing tips or success stories of how blogs actually helped their careers.

I would encourage those bloggers who chose to howl, fume, and call for my head, to see “Why I Blog Under My Own Name,” a posting by Matthew G. Kirschenbaum on his blog, as a savvy approach for job-seeking bloggers. Kirschenbaum’s field is new media, and I’ll grant he knows it better than I do. In criticizing my article, and The Chronicle for publishing it, he asked people to share “how their blog has paid off in terms of networking dividends.” The responses to his post reflect a variety of views: Some detail professional or personal benefits from blogging, while others echo the warnings of my original column. In the spirit of Kirschenbaum’s “open academic workbench” I will offer my further thoughts, then leave the discussion for others to continue.

His effort to tabulate positive uses for blogs was commendably constructive. But people on search committees could also do the opposite. If there were more candor in the hiring process, we might compile a sizable list of negative examples. But search committees often aren’t so forthcoming, as we all know. Hence my first column.

Among the more outraged responses to my column, the biggest issue seemed to be freedom of speech. There appears to be some confusion about what the Constitution guarantees. “Hello officer, the stolen goods are in my trunk,” is one example of free speech that can get you incarcerated. Telling a bank officer you plan to skip town with the cash will certainly cut your chances of getting a loan.

Likewise, there’s plenty of constitutionally protected speech that has no place in an interview. Try telling an interviewer, “Kinda heavy, aren’t you?” Or “Man, these undergrads are so hot!” It’s not hard to conjure up examples.

If “be careful what you say,” is good general advice for the job seeker, why is it so controversial to add the word “online”? Maintaining the privacy of comments broadcast to the entire computerized world seems disingenuous. Public speech, while certainly free, is still public.

Your grandma could find and read your blog. Some readers seemed to want to call it snooping if she did. But is it really, when you posted it where all her friends, and total strangers, can read it? If she’s embarrassed by your bad taste or potty mouth, who is to blame for that?

Some of the bloggers in our candidate pool showed questionable judgment in their use of free speech online. Some respondents in The Chronicle’s forums and elsewhere added other examples. My favorite was the blogger who posted his cover letter and the jobs he had applied for, ranked by desirability, on his blog. The problem may not be epidemic, but these aren’t isolated phenomena, either.

A few respondents suggested my department’s committee members should be grateful the blogs were there to give us warning. An astute observer suggested that a better title for the piece, to express the heart of the matter, would be “Too Much Information.” Maybe so.

The title I settled on (“Bloggers Need Not Apply”) was attention-grabbing and hyperbolic, as were some blogs’ subsequent calls for my head, I assume. But of course our committee didn’t use blogs as a disqualifier, as my column made clear. Lots of bloggers still misread that and assumed we had.

I stated that several committee members had reservations about hiring a blogger, which many respondents dismissed as irrational. I can’t speak for every committee member’s reasons, or every blogger’s good judgment.

This revives the point that the issue is not the medium itself, but how it is used. Search-committee members have to consider a candidate’s potential impact on their department and institution as a whole. If your blog raises doubts about you, those doubts would reasonably be factored into the equation. If a blogging candidate seems a loose cannon online, the department could easily regard that as a liability, not an asset.

Another issue that emerged is whether it’s acceptable for search committees to Google job candidates. My guess is that that practice will become commonplace, as the Internet is more integrated into our professional lives. We all share the same electronic atmosphere. Kirschenbaum and his respondents seemed to want more, rather than less, use of the Internet in the hiring process.

Hiring practices vary among states and kinds of institutions. State institutions follow government employment policies, since their hires are employed by the state. At private institutions, the hiring committee answers to the administration and trustees. Our committee was expected to be rigorous and thorough in seeking the best candidate for the job.

It’s true, as some pointed out, Google can be used to discriminate by race, creed, sexual orientation, and the works. Let’s not forget the conventional interview process can be likewise abused. Our committee was diverse by multiple indicators, and our institution is actively seeking more diversity, as are most faculty bodies I know.

If the idea of a search committee looking up candidates on the Internet seems like sniffing too close to the litterbox, then it might be worth considering just how much detritus one has deposited there.

A blog can tell a lot about the blogger, even more than the blogger may think. Whether that is positive or negative is up to the blogger. Whether a committee will find the candidate’s blog may be beyond the candidate’s control, but what the committee will find in most cases is not.

When someone attempts to tarnish your reputation, there are ways to deal with that, and sometimes silence is better than protesting too much. But when the candidate is the source of damage to his or her name (“good name” or “name brand”), it can leave hiring committees scratching their heads.

A number of respondents worried they could be mistaken for an unhirable doppelganger on the Web. I can’t speak for every committee, but ours had no trouble distinguishing our candidates from the semi-pro hockey players, quilt-store owners, marathon runners, and grade schoolers that Google turned up.

If, as a candidate, you find an actual evil twin who soils your name online, it seems reasonable to deal with that proactively. You could add a “Disavowals” list after the “References” on your CV, or add a “Who I am not” section to the “Who I am” link on a blog. Or you could choose to trust the discretion of the hiring committee members.

The brevity of job ads means that departments cannot fully disclose every criterion for each stage of the selection process. Those criteria vary by institution, academic division, department, and administrator. Multiple variables change from one job application to another.

Getting hired, then, is much like hitting the lottery. How does a candidate get the winning combination? The best advice I’ve heard says, by being who you really are. Some people will be alienated by who you really are, while others will find you appealing.

A job seeker must consider: Does that online projection (some would say construction) of yourself present you as you wish to be seen? If not, then it may take more than a disclaimer placing your blog off limits to search committees, which raises an obvious red flag. Why would you knowingly disseminate material you suspect might undermine your credibility on the job market?

If that blog is truly you and part of the whole package you want a department to hire (“love me, love my blog”), then do your blog thing.

But be aware that it could alienate a committee and count as a negative against you. If your positives as a candidate outweigh your negatives (as well as the other candidates’ positives), you’ll be OK. If your blog absolutely endears you to a committee, you’ve hit the jackpot.

And that will depend a lot on the blog. Is yours engaging or off-putting? Are you sure you can tell the difference? Honest feedback from search-committee veterans might save you from grief.

As my original column made clear (and many amid the outcry reiterated) when it comes to blogging, I just don’t “get it.” That’s right, I don’t. Many in the tenured generation don’t, and they’ll be sitting on hiring committees for years to come.

If that’s bad news, I’m sorry. But would it really be better if no one bothered to mention it? Shooting the messenger may make some feel better, but heeding the warning might help them get jobs.


Written by kimlacey

February 13, 2009 at 10:28 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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