ATL Idol Above the Law Idol AboveTheLaw Idol smaller.jpgLater today, we will open the reader polls in ATL Idol, the “reality blogging” competition in which you will select the next editor of Above the Law. Before we do that, however, we’d like to give our panel of “celebrity judges” the chance to weigh in on the contestants.
Reader opinions on the competitors have been all over the map, as well as overwhelming in volume, with hundreds of comments posted in total. So hopefully this concise commentary, from experts in legal blogging, will be clarifying.
To refresh your recollection, the distinguished judges are:
ATL Idol Judges AboveTheLaw Idol Above the Law Idol panel.jpg

  • Ann Althouse, Robert W. & Irma M. Arthur-Bascom Professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School, and author of her eponymous blog, Althouse;

  • Tom Goldstein, head of the D.C. litigation practice and co-head of the firm-wide Supreme Court practice at Akin Gump, and founder of SCOTUSblog; and
  • Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor of Slate (where she blogged at Convictions), author of two books, and a contributor to the New York Times and the Washington Post (among many other publications).
    Read the judges’ reviews, after the jump.


    As we previously explained, the three judges — who are all very busy people, with day jobs — were called upon to judge only the head-to-head rounds, in which the five contestants tackled two assigned stories (here and here). The judges were permitted, but not required, to read the contestants’ other posts. They were similarly permitted, but not required, to read the reader comments appended to the posts (so it’s possible that some of the judges’ comments may be similar to ones that y’all posted in the comments — if so, pat yourself on the back for thinking like an expert).
    And now, without further ado, here are the judges’ reviews. The judges were also encouraged to respond to each other, a la American Idol, and Professor Althouse availed herself of that opportunity.
    PROFESSOR ANN ALTHOUSE
    University of Wisconsin Law School
    Ann Althouse Professor Althouse.jpg[Ed. note: Professor Althouse's comments are also posted over at her blog, where her readers have already started responding.]
    The most important part of blogging is — to use an American Idol expression — song selection. You should be spending much more time looking for good things to blog than actually writing up the post. But you’ve had your stories imposed on you, and they are stories that don’t interest me at all. I clicked on the links, took a look, and couldn’t be bothered. And why are they all about black people getting into trouble? Is that supposed to be funny?
    But that’s not the contestants’ responsibility. You got stuck with that. It’s like Mariah Carey night. I hate the songs, so how can I care how you sing them? You’d better do something very smart and tricky or I’m gone in second. This is blogging! You have less than a second to reel me in. One thing I hated about the original articles is that they are complicated and about people I don’t know and have no motivation to learn about. Why should I figure out what damned thing happened? So the least you could do is make it very short and funny in some way that didn’t require me to understand a lot of crap I don’t care about. But you all went long. And putting it in list form or as a series of steps doesn’t fool me. It’s still long and boring. Blah. I hate everything. You did not amuse me. I would never buy this record.
    Some specifics:
    Part 1: EXLEY. That lap dance picture. I was trying to read this sitting in the middle seat on an airplane between two large Harley Davidson bikers from New Zealand. That was an element of entertainment I didn’t need. Then, I scrolled down to ALEX’s post and got a picture of some law books. Yeesh! It’s one extreme or the other. And everyone runs with the photo of the smiling black man in happier days. That made me sad. But speaking of things women don’t like, Alex, it’s not cool to snark “lovers’ quarrel” if a man has punched a woman in the stomach. And you’ve got that right next to a breast-emphasizing photo of the woman. Ugh.
    Part 2: FROLIC AND DETOUR, only one phrase stood out: “groups of bridesmaids bonding as they make babies’ footprints into tiny butterfly wings.” Would I read a blog that offered me insight and entertainment in that form? No. You’re sneering at ordinary women. Why? Who are you? SOPHIST falls back on the old device of how-to steps. I never find that funny. Seems like you could program a computer to turn news stories into a list of how-to steps. Here’s a phrase: “back-end of the Lee gene pool.” 1. Pools don’t have a “back-end.” You mean “shallow end.” 2. Racism alert. MARIN — my eyes glazed over but I did see the phrase “picked himself up, dusted himself off.” That made me want to run off to YouTube and watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Now, that was entertaining, but surely not the effect you want.
    THOMAS C. GOLDSTEIN
    Akin Gump
    Thomas Goldstein Thomas C Goldstein Tom Goldstein Akin Gump.jpgTaking up the role of Simon Cowell, I’ll be blunt. The contestants have big blogging shoes to fill – and so far, they don’t measure up. ATL fills a niche market in the sprawling blawgosphere. It’s witty, well reported, and easy to follow. (It inspires people to kiss up.) For the most part, the contestants’ posts were poorly structured, showed limited comedic skill, and either over-linked or awkwardly integrated pictures and quotes.
    I mean, what are the odds that two different contestants would use the insipid “seven steps” model for their lawyer-of-the-day posts? With rare exceptions, lists are a crutch for writers who can’t tell stories in paragraph form, and make a poor substitute for real wit and analysis. Or maybe the authors were uncomfortable with any writing task beyond drafting complaints.
    In the words of a British music mogul, the head-to-head round was like “ordering a ferocious guard dog for your home and getting delivered a poodle in a leather jacket instead.” Everyone needs to step up his or her game.
    On the individual contestants:
    EXLEY, you picked up on good facts, like that Shephard lives outside his district and, unlike Alex, that he likely pressured his girlfriend to recant her allegations. But your intro lost me at very start. “Kash recently wrote a post…” As any aspiring blogger should know, “post” can (and should) function as a verb. Thus, you should have began: “Kash recently posted…” The more words you waste, the more time ATL readers lose. In addition to the cringe-worthy list format, your post was far too long – a fault made more obvious by the awkward picture formatting – and displayed poor grammar and sentence structure.
    ALEX, very good lead in. From the start, we know Shephard is a sleazy character. And the fact he was out on bond on a separate federal indictment (which Exley didn’t reveal until the end) is crucial to understanding the rest of the story. But the abrupt shift in the middle (“Wait, hold on. None of that’s true”) threw me off. Tongue in cheek rhetoric or playing devil’s advocate only works when the facts or argument are well known. Your linking skills also could use some work, but I’d say you won your round.
    FROLIC, it’s clear you can write. And since you flaunted your Ivy League credentials in your bio, there’s no doubt you’re a smart cookie. But your insider’s perspective may be lost on the average reader. Focus more on spicing up your writing and less on Harvard and Stanford inside jokes. Also, as one commenter noted, you left off the “interim” from Lee’s job title. Good text-to-link ratio, but the absence of in-text photos made the post look bare.
    SOPHIST — again with the lists! With all the potential in a story on Lee’s descent from top government lawyer (ascent?) to Arts & Crafts, adopting the style of “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is a poor choice. You also missed an opportunity to link to Lee’s former firm. You better dazzle in your final post, because between this and Tuesday’s post — really, you picked a standing case for its comedic value? Standing? — you’re not helping your cause.
    MARIN, you’re a solid writer and you know how to link. I particularly liked your adage, “if at first you get disbarred, try, try again.” And good catch on the Wite-Out part of the story. But your MJ your paragraphs are too long. You want to engage your audience, not overwhelm them. Still, you win this round. But perhaps a mistrial should probably be called–linking to your own blog in your opening bio could influence the jury about your writing abilities.
    PROFESSOR ALTHOUSE (responding to Tom Goldstein)
    Hmmm… yeah… the Wite-Out line. It was clever — putting aside the fact that no one redacts with Wite-Out (do they?) and it has no role in pottery ornamentation. Yet the brush is a concrete and unifying image and it gives me a slight artistic frisson. I was in L.A. for that Supreme Court earthquake*, and I didn’t even feel it, so giving me a frisson is a big deal. But I’m obsessed with the racial angle. Should we be needling black people about Wite-Out? It seems wrong.
    *5.4.
    DAHLIA LITHWICK
    Slate
    Dahlia Lithwick Slate Senior Editor.jpgYou know . . . I WANTED to be your Gloria. But yikes folks. Anyone care to break a sweat here? You’re all pretty funny and you’re all good writers. But you can’t write blog posts in the six minutes between depositions. Unlike Ann I thought the raw material was pretty funny and I really wanted to care about your write ups. But. But But.
    EXLEY: twice as funny, half the length! And save the soft porn graphics for the guys at the bar at Hooters. ALEX: Points for having a beginning, middle and an end. You need to scare up at least one laugh-out-loud line tho’. FROLIC: Nice work getting it short and punchy but you compressed so much material in there that I only got the jokes when your competitors unpacked them for me. SOPHIST: “Go to GULC” is neither a point, nor a joke. MARIN: Structure! Context! Phew!
    PROFESSOR ALTHOUSE (responding to Dahlia Lithwick)
    The raw material might be funny, Dahlia, but I wasn’t moved to read it. I like to think of myself as the Simon here, but I am also playing the role of the short attention span. Nobody sold me on going so far as to read the articles… or, for that matter, the posts. I skimmed, looked at the pictures, caught some phrases. This, for me, constitutes giving the contestants the fairest reading, because that’s how I treat blogs in real life. Will I read Above the Law when David’s gone? I don’t know. Make me.
    *******************************
    We thank the judges for their insightful commentary. We’ll be opening the polls shortly; check back soon to cast your vote.
    P.S. Reading all these nice things being written about us is like getting to attend our own funeral and listen to the eulogies. The kind words are a nice change of pace from the flak we often take, in the comments and elsewhere.
    But just so you know, we will be working closely with the new editor to make ATL even better than it is now, and we will continue to write regularly for the site. So, since we won’t be completely gone from the premises, the eulogies are premature.


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