Long Live the WSJ Law Blog

Posted in Blogs | Content Marketing

I first heard about law blogs back in the early 2000s, when I was writing discrete, informational text entries, published in reverse chronological order, categorized by subject matter and syndicated for distribution to a wide audience, for a large legal news publisher.

Law blogs were reportedly a game-changing technology that allowed anyone to publish discrete, informational text entries, displayed in reverse chronological order, categorized by subject matter and syndicated for distribution to a wide audience.

For those already inside the publishing business, blogging was nothing new. Blogging looked like old-fashioned reporting dressed up in the latest cybergarb. (Actually, there was one difference: The only sources consulted by law bloggers were themselves.)

But what was (and is) indisputably great about law blogging is the way that it democratized publishing. Today everyone can profit from the views of academics and attorneys who — unlike most reporters — deeply appreciate the significance of the day’s court decisions and policy developments. Law bloggers raised the bar for reporting about the law, and the explosion of law blogs enriched us all.

Looking at law blogging from inside the legal publishing world, it was clear that a law professor’s 1,000-word post about a court decision on Monday sapped considerable value from a commercial publisher’s report on the same case two days’ later. Not surprisingly, good law bloggers chased legal publishers to higher ground, forcing them to develop more sophisticated information products as law bloggers began to dominate the dissemination of routine legal news developments.

At the same time, marketers discovered blogging, and soon the humble business of publish discrete, informational text entries, displayed in reverse chronological order, was imbued with magical qualities. Apparently no practice development problem exists that cannot be solved by law blogging. (Relatedly (or not), I own a pair of Warrior Covert QRL hockey sticks that, though advertised as magic, goal-producing implements, have yielded just three goals this year.)

Which brings me to the sad news that the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog is no longer with us. I doubt that this development is evidence of the alleged slow death of legal blogging.

The WSJ’s July 3 announcement suggests that the publisher will re-package the same content into what it believes will be more productive containers. The same great writers that wrote the great WSJ Law Blog are still writing for the Wall Street Journal. Nothing of substance has changed. The WSJ Law Blog will live on. It just won’t be called a blog.

For publishers, words are words, whether those words are packaged as “news articles” or “blog posts” or “analyses” or whatever. It’s all publishing. WSJ smashed the bottle, but the same wine will be distributed in different vessels.

I suspect that the “community building” aspects of blogging, the way that blogging connects reporters to their sources and readership, have been supplanted by Twitter and Facebook. Most reporters I know would gladly trade a 500-word blog post for a 140-character tweet if it meant that they could spend more time on their day job without losing touch.

To the extent that there is any larger meaning to the demise of the WSJ Law Blog, it is that other news organizations that jumped on the blogging bandwagon will sense that it is now OK to let their blogs go as well. If I learned anything in my many years of observing news executives, it is that the best business ideas are those that a competitor has recently implemented. I would look for news organization “blogs” to become more scarce in the years ahead.

Lawyers and law firms are differently situated, however. For them, online publishing — whether they call it a “blog” or update or whitepaper — remains an imperative. Blogs will continue to be the easiest way to get law firm thought leadership online and to have law practices surface when would-be clients search for legal assistance.