Monday, January 27, 2014

Are Blogs Inherently UnProfessional?

Is blogging inherently unprofessional?  Some people seem to think so, perhaps because they read my stuff, but there are plenty of bloggers far more professional than I.  As a member of the International Studies Association's Governing Council, I received the agenda today for this year's meeting.  I am on the council this year as I am the President of the Foreign Policy Analysis section, so this is my one year to hang out with the ISA muckety-mucks.  Anyhow, I was surprised to find a proposal that would force those who are involved in the editing of any of the various ISA journals to cease blogging.  Why?  Because it seems to be the case that blogging is inherently unprofessional.  Read the proposal below and then read my take on this proposal:

Proposal from the Executive Committee to the Governing Council on Changes to ISA’s code of conduct policy


The Preface to the ISA Code of Conduct states: “The purpose of this document is to provide an authoritative statement regarding the expectations for professional conduct for all who participate in ISA meetings and conventions, and it will be especially useful for those who are new to the profession and/or the ISA. It is borne out of the ISA’s commitment to maintaining and promoting a professional environment at its meetings and other organized activities, and it is guided by the conviction that the advancement of knowledge flourishes most readily in an atmosphere of constructive debate in which all members treat one another with dignity and respect.”
The issue of “maintaining and promoting a professional environment” is particularly pertinent to the material that is made public through the use of blogs. It is the sense of the ISA executive committee that ISA’s Code of Conduct applies not only to individual members but also to ISA publications. The committee believes that any connection between blogs and ISA journals should be severed or separated. There should be no connection between independent/personal blogs and ISA journals.  


The Executive Committee requests that the Governing Council of the ISA add language to ISA’s code of conduct policy that will state the following:  “No editor of any ISA journal or member of any editorial team of an ISA journal can create or actively manage a blog unless it is an official blog of the editor’s journal or the editorial team’s journal. This policy requires that all editors and members of editorial teams to apply this aspect of the Code of Conduct to their ISA journal commitments. All editorial members, both the Editor in Chief(s) and the board of editors/editorial teams, should maintain a complete separation of their journal responsibilities and their blog associations. Adoption of this policy requires either stepping down from any such editorial responsibilities, or removal of affiliation with, and any participation in, external blogs for the duration of ISA editorial duties.”

There is so much wrong with this stance and this policy, so let me focus on a few key aspects:
  • There is heaps of irony since the preface the Executive Committee cites focuses on "constructive debate" and implies (there is no explanation or justification for why blogs are singled out here) that blogging is somehow antithetical to constructive debate.
  • Indeed, the language here reminds of collegiality clauses in tenure rules that often do more to quell dissent than to create a positive environment.
  • If blogging is so unprofessional, why are these restrictions not applied to the executive committee of the ISA
  • If we are concerned about professionalism of editors as they communicate with the outside world, we need to ask editors not to blog, not to tweet, not to engage in facebook or any other social media.  Moreover, we need to worry about other forms of communication, too, right? such as writing op-eds or appearing on TV/radio , right?  What distinguishes blogs from other media through which scholars communicate
  • There are increased expectations by grant agencies to have knowledge mobilization plans so that the findings go beyond the academic world, and blogging is often imagined to be such a pathway.  So, will future editors have to choose between their funded projects and editing?  Indeed, schools also are expecting greater engagement via social media?
  • Who should we ask not to edit ISA journals?  Jason Lyall and Erica Chenoweth at MonkeyCage, Barbara Walter, Erica C and others at Political Violence at a Glance, Dan Drezner and Marc Lynch? I can go on and on, listing all of the IR folks who blog (perhaps folks can submit their faves in the comments). 
  • Women and minorities are underrepresented in blogging and maybe in editing—do you want them to not blog, narrowing the voices there so that they can edit or vice versa?
  • Some people use blogs (and other social media that logically should fall under the same taboo) in their teaching, so what happens to them?
  • This sends a pretty chilling message beyond those who serve on journal editorial teams.  It tells the profession that blogging is inherently unprofessional.  That might not be their intent, but that would be the result.   
There might be a problem with collective blogs since one blogger's posts may then be tied to others in that blogging collective (been there ...), but this policy is broader than that.  I would not be happy with that kind of policy either, as I would hope that people could distinguish between the various members of a blogging group.  

While some might think that a three year blogging cease fire might be fine for editors and those who fill various slots on journals, it might be especially problematic for such folks.  Editors might be so busy doing their editorial work that they might find blogging the best way to stake claims as their research agendas slow down while they work on the journal.  Such a blogging break would definitely disrupt the relationship that bloggers have with their audience.  Building such an audience is not easy and takes time.  A three year hiatus (how long is an editorship?) might damage produce lasting damage to an editor's blogging.  Moreover, blogging can help one's teaching and one's research, so this policy asks editorial folks to lose one of their adopted strategies for inspiration and working out of ideas.

The funny thing is that I would not have been surprised to see something like this ten years ago when blogging was rare, where only the strange/daring would go (that would be Dan Drezner, Marc Lynch and other early adopters).  Social media is so much more commonplace these days that I would not think that zero tolerance kind of rules would be applied, especially to those willing to sacrifice considerable time and effort to help the association through the relatively thankless task of journal editing

The real issue is not about blogging but responsibility.  You want any editor to be professional and responsible, regardless of the media through which they choose to communicate.  So rather than saying editors cannot blog, why not just ask them to be professional?  And if you cannot trust your editors to be professional, then study some principal-agency theory to figure out how to delegate and then oversee.

I am sure that I missed some other reasons why this proposed policy is a bad idea.  So, please comment below with whatever I missed.  And if you think this proposal is a good idea, please do comment below.  Of course, that would just illustrate the advantage blogging has as an interactive media that facilitates interchange (which is inherently unprofessional?).


AmPowerBlog said...

It's a terrible idea. The ISA folks need to get into the 21st century.

Mathis said...

Dan Nexon just started a new blog ( and now they want to shut everything down?

Marc Levy said...

This announcement must have been scheduled for an April 1 release and accidentally got transmitted ahead of time.

Sören Stapel said...

Uhh. This is terrible news and I hope your intervention (with the help of others in the Governing Council) will be succesfull!

My question would be: Why now? Blogs have been around for a while and ISA ExComm comes up with that idea only now? Is this group of people really that detached from the life of other (maybe younger) people / scholars?

But, adding just one more anecdote, this resonates pretty much with what I experienced last year. When I worked as a program assistant for ISA 2013, I also wanted to report about this experience but some people and so I asked ISA people what they thought about this idea. They kind of thwarted this activity; you know, write something up for internal use because that would help the following PAs and arguments like that. I was quite disappointed about this but nevertheless wrote something up in the meantime on my blog. But obviously, the consequences for me were not really consequential - compared to the problems a (future) editor might have to face.

Charli Carpenter said...

Steve's right though. If the goal is to help ISA editorial teams control what its editors can say about internal journal politics why ban only bloggers? Lots of settings require participants to keep organizational politics internal and I don't see why anyone should discriminate against bloggers. People like Dan attend briefings in the intelligence community all the time and are trusted not to share intel on blogs. Presumably bloggers can be trusted to simply check with participants/editors before reporting insights from a meeting and/or do so in a way that is ok with all participants (my gender bias post from last week is an example of this).

Instead, just define and articulate your policy and developed shared norms about what if anything is an isn't shareable (and there are lots of variants on this that could be determined by each journal, e.g. Chatham House rules) etc.

Anyway I'm not sure that's the key goal here. I think this policy is about something else - either generating a "do-not-compete" framework as journals go to blog formats, or trying to avoid the accusation that an editor is responsible for the writing of his colleagues on a group blog. I can think of better ways to solve both problems.

I also think that a policy that affects the entire organization (rather than a single journal) should be deliberated in consultation with ISA's entire membership - kudos to Steve for making us aware this is going on.

LightTheDarkCorners said...

Pretty elitist outlook to me anyway. The blog world gives us a modern version of the 18th Century Salon - which allowed diverse people to enter into meaningful discussion and debate about big issues and ideas. Interesting thing is that allowed for the input of very intelligent women whose intellectual insight had no other outlet.
Jim Washington
PhD Student Security Studies
Kansas State University

herman schwartz said...

as last year's ISA conference co-chair (2013, hi soeren) i also think this policy is a mistake. CC above has it right - either you trust people to whom you have entrusted control over a journal (etc) not to spread internal matters around, or you clearly don't trust them. in which case, why give them control over a journal (etc).

feel free to enlist me if you make a formal complaint.

Richard Price said...

Thanks for bringing this to our attention (Steve through Charli). Political expression in the contemporary format that most engages scholars in intellectual debates in a publically accessible way is unprofessional? Happy to add my voice to ISA to scrap this proposal.

Steve Saideman said...

Please contact folks on the GC that you know--section chairs, for instance--and let them know where you stand. It may unravel before the meeting, but if not, I want to make sure this proposal stays dead.

TwShiloh said...

I believe the appropriate response would be to make a 'Hitler Rant' video where the Hitler character is the head of the ISA and (s)he is just told (in 2014) that these things known as 'blogs' exist and people may actually be using them.

Political Science Replication said...

Blogging is already far more accepted in the political science community than the ISA proposal makes us believe.

My own blog on replication in social sciences has been cited in published articles, and many debates around transparency, reproducibility and replication take place on excellent blogs by Victoria Stodden at Columbia University, the Moneky Cage, Retraction Watch and so on.

These blogs provide a great service to the community and they were ahead of discussions on transparency that was taken up in academic journals later, because there was a strong need in the community to discuss without delay.

Since heavy use of blogs in policical science is already underway, the ISA proposal is far behind the actual discussion, and looks backwards, not ahead. I therefore find it hard to take this proposal seriously.

Jim Norris said...

If anyone knows about keeping blogging professional it's got to be Donald[e] Douglas. Was it yesterday or the day before when in an atmosphere of constructive debate he treated a fellow blog commenter with dignity and respect by referring to her as a "cum-receptacle"?

PHB said...

I think this needs a totally different response, a motion of no confidence in the people who suggested it. Clearly they were dropped on the head to many times as a baby.

Editing a journal really doesn't do as much for a career as this bunch of twits seem to think. Why would anyone want to do the work under these conditions?

Even if the work was being paid for, the conditions are idiotic and would probably be considered invalid even in 'right to exploit your employees' states.