Blogging guest from the LSE
Towards the end of the last academic year, we were delighted to welcome Michael Taster, the Managing Editor of the LSE Impact Blog to our blog writing group. Michael shared some fascinating insights into how to run a high profile academic blog, how to find new content for the blog and how to create content that your audience wants to read. Jane worked at LSE at the time the LSE Blogs were set up, and so it was great to see how they have continued to invest in the Impact Blog, employing a dedicated managing editor. You can watch a recording from the session above, but here is a short summary of the talk and a few reflections.
Michael began by talking about the never-ending need for content for an academic blog – he looks to publish 3-4 posts a week, which is a lot! Finding good and relevant content is very important to him and it’s a balance between expertise and research. Michael finds a lot of cutting edge research in academic papers but also by lurking on social media and finding out what the community is talking about. He uses traditional listservs and other places to find new and cutting edge topics. Michael explained how editing content is then important – he looked back on a talk given in 2014 by Professor Patrick Dunleavy on the idea of a blog as a “Republic of letters” but also about the importance of finding a voice in the blog.
Blogging is not like a press release, but nor is it the same as traditional academic publishing. Bringing out the voice in a piece of writing is important to Michael – it’s not just an op ed – and you don’t want a meandering 1000 words. A good blog post needs to be persuasive writing aimed at a particular audience. Citing Marshal McCluhan, he really does believe the medium is the message and so images and videos are all important. Michael also talked about having a good “pool quote” to engage your audience helps with communicating about a blog post on social media.
Michael discussed the responsibilities of the editor such as checking for legal issues (eg libel) but also introducing tact and nuance if writing about contentious subjects. Sometimes unexpected things trigger people, for example the Impact Blog published a piece about how to write over the holidays – academics take time off, use the time to write, but this actually triggered a social media storm about whether academics should or do take holidays! Michael also urged blog editors and writers to consider copyright when publishing others work – they openly licence the LSE Impact blog posts. They also find some posts might have longer tails and can be republished in different ways. Academic authors might not be used to this and so it’s important to explain how open licences work if you are using them.
Questions inevitably turned to what is the value of the blog to the institution – why does LSE fund it? Michael spoke about the balance of internal and external audiences, but also about representing a community. For him diversity on the blog is really important – it is very easy to replicate the big voices, but blogging should be about having different kinds of voices telling their stories. Michael likes to publish blog posts from under-represented communities, for early career researchers and to help them build their profile.
We ended by considering what the future of multi-author blogs might be – Patrick Dunleavy thought in 2012 this might be the way that academics would communicate. However, we have seen the rise / tyranny of social media – recently the Impact blog published a piece recently about whether the academic single author blog is dead. It is an important point and one Jane has thought about a fair bit as she considers how infrequently she writes on her own blog. Michael noted that comments on blogs are less common now and that most of the debate happens on Twitter or Facebook. However, multi-author blogs (like this one, Learning at City) provide a community and structure for voices to communicate without academic hierarchies. He believe they can help marginalised authors or early career researchers and for that reason alone we think they should continue. While it’s true that there are so many blogs out there, really good quality writing, such as that we see on the LSE Impact Blog is so important. Long may it continue!
Future Writing Group dates
We are always on the lookout for future guest speakers for the Writing Group. If you blog in an academic context and would like to share your experiences with others, please get in touch. In the meantime, you can sign up for future Writing Group sessions at the links below (all of which take place on Zoom and run from 12:00 – 13:00):