Ann Althouse, ATL Idol, Blogging, Contests, Dahlia Lithwick, Thomas Goldstein

ATL Idol: The Judges Speak (Week 3)

ATL Idol Above the Law Idol AboveTheLaw Idol smaller.jpgATL Idol, the “reality blogging” competition in which you will select the next editor of Above the Law, is nearing its end. The original six contestants have been winnowed down to two finalists: FROLIC AND DETOUR and SOPHIST.
We’ll open the polls later today. But first, let’s hear from your celebrity judges:
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).
    See what they have to say about the last two competitors, after the jump.

    As in prior weeks, the judges were asked to review only the head-to-head round, in which our two remaining contestants tackled the same assigned story. The judges were permitted, but not required, to read the contestants’ other posts during the week, as well as reader comments appended thereto.
    Akin Gump
    Thomas Goldstein Thomas C Goldstein Tom Goldstein Akin Gump.jpgF&D: It looks to me that you were assigned a story involving the continuation of a epic legal saga that everyone hoped and assumed the Supreme Court had resolved this Term. You wrote about a totem pole. Blogs, unlike newspapers, don’t have to follow conventional journalistic standards. But even on ATL, posts should relate to actual news – legal news, personal news, news about space aliens, whatever – but news. By your own account, the pole is nearly 18 months old and it doesn’t have anything more than a tangential relationship to the Supreme Court’s decision or what’s going on in the case.
    Which leads to my second point: know your audience and pivot off of them. My sense is that most ATL readers work in BigLaw or are in the law school pipeline headed in that direction. If they don’t defend corporations themselves, they work for firms that do. So either sympathize with their struggles against the conniving plaintiff’s bar, or chide them for nickel-and-diming innocent victims. But take a stand one way or another.
    Finally, thanks for giving my blog a shout out for its extensive coverage of the case. You lose a couple of points for linking past the jump instead of the top of the post and for not recognizing that it’s SCOTUSblog not Scotusblog (because there’s an acronym involved). And failing to do a simple spell-check is, in your own words, “Rididulous.”
    Sophist: Since you like to make lists, try this one out:

    1. The oil spill occurred more than 19 years ago, not 17 years ago.

    2. Exxon (not the fisherman) was the petitioner at the Supreme Court.

    3. The jury’s award was first slashed by the district judge (to $4.5 billion), not by the Ninth Circuit.

    4. The Supreme Court’s decision was based solely on maritime common law. (Indeed, the questions presented specifically excluded the due process claim.)

    Unlike F&D, you deserve credit for discussing the actual story. But you seemed to bury (what to my eyes was) the lead: namely, that the parties must slog through years of litigation because the Supreme Court seemingly forgot to apply one of its own rules.
    And rather than explain the rule yourself, you simply quoted from our account. I appreciate the ink, but because SCOTUSblog is geared somewhat to a more specialized audience, the explanation may have left even your more sophisticated readers miffed.
    Here’s my sense in the end. The competitors have a long way to go before they meet the high standards set by David, who’s both a natural and works very hard at the blog. I can’t tell if the skill set just isn’t there, or it’s a question of developing experience. To me, the first season of West Wing stunk, but it eventually hit its stride and became great. The same could happen here, but unfortunately an advertising-supported blog doesn’t have a year to find its voice. It risks losing a generation of readership in the blink of an eye.
    University of Wisconsin Law School
    Ann Althouse Professor Althouse.jpgIt’s hard to show off your blogging style when you’re assigned to blog what is already a stylishly written blog post. I like this Ashby Jones character who writes for the Wall Street Journal:

    Just when you thought you’d never have to hear the word “Hazelwood” again, the Exxon-Valdez case is back in the news….

    Call us crazy, but we’d bet we see this back at the Supreme Court in a year or two, after whichever party loses at the 9th Circuit appeals.

    This is already very similar to what (I think) David Lat would write. So what do you do to add value when you link to it? It’s not easy.
    Frolic and Detour titled the post “Pole Position: Is That a Silent Protest, or Are You Just Happy to See Me?” The title turned me off, but the post wasn’t terrible. Like last week, F&D went out looking for more material and this time he/she built the whole post on it. The “alternative dispute resolution called the shame pole.” I would have liked to see more mockery. For one thing, you made a sexual reference in the title and it’s a pole, so we expect a raunchy payoff. Despite its girth, that pole can’t screw you as hard as a lawsuit.
    And you’ve got that photograph. You don’t mean for us to take that art and that solemn Native American artist at face value, do you? I need to laugh at that or I don’t want to see it. Art is almost always bad and should be ridiculed. And solemn Native American guardians of the landscape are a pedantic cliché that must be reworked (or eschewed).
    You say: “No word on whether Exxon plans to erect a shame pole decorated with worried shareholders in front of Webber’s house.” That was good. But since you wrote “in front of Webber’s house,” I got distracted wondering if Native Americans — can we get a tribe name? — put their shame poles on the property of the individuals they are trying to shame. That seemed intimidating, like a burning cross on somebody’s front yard. But then I concluded that you just lost track of the parallelism. Similarly, you told us what was on Webber’s pole — “images of dead otters, out-of-business fishermen, and corporate villains” — so you should have given us a list of images Exxon’s pole. You came up with “worried shareholders.” For parallelism, you needed three things. And there’s even a Rule of Three in comedy writing. So you should have said something like: worried shareholders, a glowering Justice Scalia, and… oh, I don’t know… a dying Richard Carstone.
    Enough about the pole. On to Sophist.
    I couldn’t figure out what Sophist’s idea was. Litigation can take a long time, and lawyers fight hard for the interests they represent? You’re not talking to neophytes, so what are you saying (that Ashby Jones didn’t say better)? That litigation can take a really long time and lawyers fight really hard?
    Frolic and Detour found an idea but it was a little off and it was not fully exploited. Sophist never really got an idea at all. I’m going to give this round to Frolic and Detour.
    Dahlia Lithwick Slate Senior Editor.jpgNever has the question of interest been rendered less interesting. I frankly don’t think either of you explained the legal issue well enough to set the table here at all. And no fair relying on SCOTUSblog to do that for you. Explaining the legal dispute is your job, first and foremost, the readers won’t read if they don’t care. That said, there are about nine truisms about The Law that are too boring to be done boringly. That it is slow is one of them. Your raw material here was a law is slow story. You needed some fancy stunt driving to get me to care.
    Sophist you are the better journalist, clearer and less loop-de-loopy. But the boringness of your efforts on this one are quite staggering. The first non-reported riff in here? That there was “much gnashing of teeth over at Faegre & Benson.” A cliche? Your kicker. Another cliche? Lesson to bloggers: Never end with the line “lesson to bloggers.”
    Frolic and Detour, points to you for an original angle. I hated it. But at least you rooted around for some interesting framing device. I agree with Ann that if you were going to pull all your eggs on the shame pole you needed to make it hilarious. This entry was not. I give you the round for having the balls to float a weird idea but the first rule of floating weird ideas has to be: do it well.
    I am not quite as pessimistic as Tom. Both of you are good bloggers and making the law both interesting and funny is unbelievably hard. Lat just makes it look easy. Good luck to you both.
    Earlier: Prior ATL Idol coverage (scroll down)

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