Blog at your own risk

Like a whole bunch of others, I found this Chronicle article ("Bloggers Need Not Apply," by "Ivan Tribble," 7/8/05) … puzzling, at best. Professor Tribble, who’s served on a search committee that didn’t hire several blogging candidates, wonders why anyone applying for an academic position would keep a blog:

The pertinent question for bloggers is simply, Why? What is the purpose
of broadcasting one’s unfiltered thoughts to the whole wired world?
It’s not hard to imagine legitimate, constructive applications for such
a forum. But it’s also not hard to find examples of the worst kinds of

A blog easily becomes a therapeutic outlet, a place to vent
petty gripes and frustrations stemming from congested traffic, rude
sales clerks, or unpleasant national news. It becomes an open diary or
confessional booth, where inward thoughts are publicly aired.

Worst of all, for professional academics, it’s a publishing
medium with no vetting process, no review board, and no editor.

The article concludes, "Our blogger applicants came off reasonably well at the initial
interview, but once we hung up the phone and called up their blogs, we
got to know ‘the real them’ — better than we wanted, enough to
conclude we didn’t want to know more."

Hmm. I don’t think I’d want to join Professor Tribble’s department, even if I were still looking for academic jobs. It sounds like people who have interests outside their jobs, or even people who admit to having personal lives, aren’t all that welcome there. (And I’m not even going to say anything about the way Professor Tribble dubs the candidate with the personal blog "Shrill.") What bothers me about this article — apart from the way the search committee seems to think it’s fine to hire a candidate without knowing "the real them" only to discover, too late, that they don’t like "the real them" — is the way Professor Tribble’s disapproval of the few examples of legitimately Bad Blogging Behavior (the candidate who misrepresents his research, for instance) drifts into a general disapproval of the sharing of any "inward thoughts" with the reading public.

Blogging during a job search is a risky business. I’m fully aware that potential employers are probably going to Google me, and they may well end up here. That knowledge is always in my head when I’m composing new entries; I revise a lot, I try to stay away from excessively personal topics, I worry about whether my political posts are too ranty and whether my jokier posts are too silly.* People I know from professional contexts do read this blog from time to time (hello, all of you!) and have had nice things to say about it so far (thanks!). But I’m still wary of what should and shouldn’t be said in the presence of people who currently work with me or may do so in the future. And I’m all right with that. After all, "don’t forget that you have an audience composed of actual people rather than imaginary phantoms" was one of the main principles I tried to teach my students when I taught college writing.

But the idea that candidates, during the job search, should avoid giving any impression of a personality or outside interests or opinions — that seems a little on the absurd side. To answer Professor Tribble’s initial "why?" question: for me, at least, blogging is a 21st-century variation on the 18th-century salon. It’s conversation, sometimes very intellectual, sometimes not; it’s a social activity, but one that’s mediated through the written word. It’s not the same thing as publishing in a peer-reviewed journal, nor should it be. It’s an opportunity to test out new thoughts, but in a forum where others are present to discuss, join in, go off on tangents, be snarky or serious, and make connections to what other people are saying. And if being interested in carrying on that kind of conversation disqualifies me in the eyes of potential employers, I might not be a good "fit" for them, and vice versa, in the first place.

(See also Timothy Burke, Dorothea Salo, Ancrene Wiseass, and Matthew Kirschenbaum.)

* Perhaps job-seeking bloggers need someone like the Colonel from Monty Python’s Flying Circus to indicate when things are getting too silly?

2 Responses to “Blog at your own risk”

  1. alan says:

    I agree with you entirely.

  2. Harrison says:

    I think that not too long from now, it’s going to start to look weird if you don’t have a blog. Not as bad, perhaps, as a resume without an email address, but weird none the less.
    It will also seem weird if you get googled and very little comes up. At least with a blog, you can claim your own name on the net.