One other topic that had been heavily bandied about during the blogging colloquium was the type of content appropriate for a law blog. Resolution was not reached, but interesting points were raised. On the one hand there's someone like Ann Althouse, who blogs on serious matters but also on quite a few other topics, ranging from artistic musings to personal glimpses to synopses of television shows. There was an undercurrent of fear in the comments of most of the other panelists that too much non-law material could be detrimental to one's ethos as a legal scholar, but no one could quite put their finger on where the line should be drawn between bloggable and non-bloggable material. And indeed there are few, if any, serious legal bloggers who draw the line at 100% serious material. Gordon Smith blogs cheese, Howard Bashman Phillies games... Even Eugene Volokh posts silly things from time to time.
Michael Froomkin addresses the problem of tone by maintaining separate blogs. To an extent I think this is a sensible approach, especially for blogs, like his ICANNwatch blog, that are dedicated to a specific topic. But what's sort of interesting is that I don't read that blog - I read his regular, more personal blog. When I met him I told him I liked reading it, but this seemed to perplex him. Why would I? Because I trusted his voice, I told him.
Trusting a blogger's voice is probably the key determinant in whether someone reads their blog or not. But "trust" can mean some combination of many things. For one, it can mean just liking the voice. And this, too, can mean several things. It can mean liking the writing style, and it can mean liking the person behind it. There are a couple of blogs I don't read anymore because even though they were expertly written, there was something about the underlying personality that didn't sit well with me. Similarly there are some blogs I don't read because their writing is too dense or technical. Or updated too frequently or infrequently. Reading a blog shouldn't feel like work. There are few bloggers who are worthwhile enough to read for me to feel inclined to tolerate the sense of burden. So "liking" the writing/the blog/the person means you trust that reading the blog will be a worthwhile and not un-pleasant investment of your time.
Then there's "trust" as in trusting the author's ethos. Do you believe what the author is telling you? Do you even care what they might have to say on the subject? Law professors by default seem to have good ethos on law topics, although I suppose it's a rebuttable presumption if they continually post in an unsophisticated way. Lawyers and law students, by contrast, tend to need to earn their ethos, but many do. A series of cogent, thoughtful, interesting posts certainly can snag me as a regular reader. I do tend to have problems with political blogs, however, for this reason. Even when they are blogs of my political persuasion I don't enjoy them when they are little more than self-serving pats on the back for being "right" about things. If they don't look deeper into the issues and policies, if they don't give credit to the opposition when it's due, if they aren't self-critical of the "home team" when it's appropriate, and if the sole purpose to their prose is to keep score in the "us v. them" political universe they've defined, I tend not to read them. I would much rather read a thoughtful blog by someone who doesn't usually vote my preferred ticket than an unthoughtful one by someone who does. If there's at least some evidence that the author thinks credibly then I'm much more willing to trust them when they share the results of that thinking. (This is true for any kind of blog.)
Ultimately "trust" is a complex thing. It's more than subject matter expertise; it's a deeper form of credibility. It boils down to a willingness to join a blogger on their journey, to let them blogger say whatever they want to say when he or she wants to say it and not demand from them "all erudition all the time," or all humor or all whatever. Trusting the voice means trusting the person behind it to feed you the words he wants to convey just because he wants to convey them. Even if sometimes it happens to be "cheese."