Ten years ago today, the first post appeared at Lawyers, Guns and Money, then housed at lefarkins.blogspot.com. The first post, by djw, was a classic “Test.” We then managed a half dozen other posts in the first day, running a gamut of topics that, for the most part, we still write about now.
How did this come about? In early 2004, Scott, djw, and myself (all graduate students in the Department of Political Science at the University of Washington) started talking seriously about founding a blog. Scott had already given the idea some consideration, and had even come up with a name: Lawyers, Guns and Money. Both Scott and myself were in the midst of completing our dissertations, so while we didn’t have a wealth of time at the moment for other writing, we could foresee a future in which things would loosen up a bit. A few months before I had met Matt Duss, who had already started his own blog and got me more interested in the project.
It seemed that everyone was starting a blog at that time, although in retrospect I think we may have been at the very end of the first adopter wave. We gained a small but loyal audience fairly quickly, largely drawn from our friends, colleagues, and students. The early development of this audience was critical, as the most demoralizing aspect of maintaining a blog is the feeling that no one out there is listening.
Since that first day, we’ve published upwards of 21000 posts, with almost 28 million visits and over 42 million page views. It’s fair to say that both the longevity and the success of LGM have far exceeded anything that we reasonably could have expected when we began. Our audience has grown steadily, with only a couple of instances of sustained decline (these followed the 2004 and 2008 elections).
The blogosphere has, obviously, undergone a dramatic set of changes since we set up shop. The most notable difference is the decline in the independent blog; so many of our comrades from 2004 have joined larger media institutions, or become institutionalized (so to speak) on their own. Of course, we’ve hardly been immune to this process, as several of us have moonlighted for a variety of different outlets over the years.
The winds have also shifted against the multi-purpose blog, with authors writing on a variety of topics without pretense to specific expertise. While each of us had specific areas of academic and policy expertise when we founded LGM, we never envisioned limiting our contributions to those areas. Indeed, in the early years all of the front-page contributors ranged widely across topics, writing about foreign policy, legal affairs, politics, sports, and cultural topics as if we each had something interesting to say.
The willingness of the blogosphere to tolerate the generalist blogger has declined, and I think it’s fair to say that LGM has accommodated itself to this trend. This is true both in how the original contributors now behave, and in how we’ve brought in new people. My posts focus primarily on security and defense work, and while Scott’s posting strays a bit more from his academic interests, it certainly has narrowed around a consistent set of arguments about American politics. The same could be said of Paul, SEK, and Erik; all write generalist posts, while also contributing heavily on their specialties.
Nevertheless, while the individual contributors tend to coalesce more around specific areas than they once did, the blog as a whole still touches on a wide array of topics. It’s a point of pride that we’ve managed to make this transition, and to maintain our independence for so long. We’re also mindful of all the blogs from the “Golden Age” that haven’t made it as long as we have. Most often, this has resulted from our own good luck (in terms of consistent outside employment, etc.) than from any degree of merit.
If this project goes as planned, everyone will have a say on what LGM has meant to them, but I wanted to give at least a few brief words on how all of these people have fit into LGM’s project (whatever that is).
Dave Noon was the first addition to the lineup. At the time he was producing brilliant work at Axis of Evel Knievel, work that we would often link to. Productive conversations eventually ensued, and he came on board in plenty of time to chronicle the “rise” of Sarah Palin from an Alaskan perspective.
Defeated, Sarah retreated into the icy wastes from which she came. No one knows where Dave Noon is now, but some say (and I like to think that this is true), that he took an oath not unlike this one:
“Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.”
It’s comforting to me, the idea that Noon is standing upon that wall, watching against the return of the Darkness from the North.
Adding Erik had long been an idea; we very much enjoyed his work at Alterdestiny, but there was some uncertainty as to how he might fit in at LGM. As one commenter noted, there’s no question that Erik has changed the tone of the blog, but there’s little question in my mind that the change has been for the positive. There’s no question whatsoever that Erik’s entry coincided with a significant bump in traffic.
We initially envisioned this site as a politics and culture blog. Thus, there’s always been space for someone like SEK, although I don’t think that we ever quite grasped that “someone like SEK” would actually be “SEK.” I honestly don’t remember ever even inviting SEK to blog here; we just woke up one morning and he was posting, and that seemed as it should be.
It’s also under these terms that it’s easiest to understand bspencer’s role with the blog. Over the past year, as I’ve noted on several occasions, I’ve been rebuilding the archives we lost during the transition from Blogger to WordPress. Much has surely remained the same, but much has also changed, in both tone and content. I daresay at this point that Beth’s blogging for LGM now is more reminiscent of the first year of LGM than any of the other regulars.
The three original members knew Dave Brockington from the University of Washington Department of Political Science, where he was two years ahead of Dave and myself and three years ahead of Scott. Brockington is our answer to Nate Silver, if Nate Silver lived in the United Kingdom and studied cricket. I think it’s fair to say that we’ve nearly cornered the market on cricket blogging in the US political blogosphere.
Paul Campos has added a touch of seriousness and maturity to LGM, as well as deep subject matter knowledge in several areas that we consider critical. We’re not just deeply honored to be part of Paul’s broader project on law school education; we’re also pleased at the attention the campaign has brought to LGM.
We also have a pair of “alumni” or “emerita,” depending on how you want to look at it. Bean became a part of the crew in order to shore up our legal blogging side, as well as from general awesomeness. She joined us in October 2007, leaving for greener pastures in August 2008. We asked Charli Carpenter to join because of her interest in the intersection of international affairs and pop culture. Her most memorable post grafted a permanent “e” onto the name of a long-term “friend of the blog.” We dearly miss them both.
Finally, LGM has hosted quite a few guest bloggers over the years, including Steve Attewell, Colin Snider, Matt Duss, iocaste, Jonathan Powell, and many others. At first, we invited guests in order to keep the site going when several of the front pagers went on vacation. Now, we invite them primarily when we think that have something interesting and useful to say that goes beyond what our expertise can offer.
There have surely been points at which I would agree with Freddie’s characterization of the LGM commentariat. The general attitudes of our commenters have changed a great deal over time, as has their relationship with the front-page authors. There are some few that have been with us since very nearly the beginning. The relationship has often been frustrating, but has almost always been productive, as some of the blog’s best posts have emerged from conversations that began in the comments. It remains a tragedy that we lost the larger part of the comments from the first six years of the blog when we shifted to WordPress, but as far as I’ve been able to tell, there’s no way to get those back.
For my part, while I generally don’t wade in as much as I did in the early years of the blog, I still greatly value the comments as a form of peer review. If I’m making a weak argument, or if I’ve left out some critical detail, or if I’ve explained myself insufficiently, I can count on commenters to point it out. Sadly, this contribution goes unpaid in anything other than our most heartfelt thanks.
Behind the Blogging
LGM has seen remarkably little internal drama over the past decade. We don’t have a style guide, the money is too small to have a real fight about, and we don’t have an editorial “direction” in the sense that the term is normally used. This doesn’t quite explain why there’s been so little fighting, as blogs fall apart all the time from big squabbles over small things. I suppose that the closest we ever came to genuine problems came in mid-2010, when the transition from Blogger to WordPress was not going well and the site was hemorrhaging readers. Even then, it was the situation that was stressful, not the relationships between contributors.
It’s worth adding that our readers have, over the years, been exceedingly generous. LGM “makes money” in the literal sense of the term, although the proceeds won’t soon allow any of us to quit our day jobs. Beer money is nice, however, and the experience of owning and managing a small business has been eye-opening.
For my part, the LGM experience has opened up enormous personal and professional opportunities. There have also been some costs, but those costs have, in my mind, been well worth bearing. When I think about the contributions that I have made as an academic and “public intellectual,” LGM occupies the central position.
As for the future… who knows? We’re all obviously in much different personal and professional situations than when we founded LGM, but I nevertheless find it heartening that, between the nine of us, we still manage to find enough time in our days to keep the site running at near-peak volume. We had more pageviews in April 2014 than in any previous month, so we seem to be doing fairly well.
We hope to restart regular podcasts (or at least podcasts that aren’t associated with Game of Thrones) at some point in the near future. Podcasting demands a bit more organization and coordination that we’re used to, and also entails some upfront costs in terms of prep, learning, and software. A couple of us are also beginning to think about books that revolve around topics developed on the blog; I suspect that if anything comes of this, you will be repeatedly made aware of it in no uncertain terms.
As for the rest of the victory lap, over the next couple of days we will have posts from all the front pagers and former front pagers of LGM, as well as from a few “Friends of the Blog.” If you like self-celebratory navel gazing, this is your thing. If not, it’ll all be over in a day or two.