Friday, July 15, 2011
Legal Schnauzer Reaches a Blogging Milestone
We try not to spend much time tooting our own horn around here, but our little blog passed a milestone the other day that might be worth noting.
On June 16, Legal Schnauzer had its 1 millionth page view. What does that mean? I'm hardly an expert on blog analytics, so I really don't know. But it does seem to say that you can start a serious blog about legal and judicial corruption--a fairly complex, decidedly unsexy topic--and still attract an audience.
That wasn't a given when I started this blog on June 3, 2007, with a post titled "Is 'Your Honor' Really Honorable?" At the time, I wasn't sure if anyone other than me and Mrs. Schnauzer would read it. And I still don't know that having 1 million page views over four years time--if my math is correct, we are averaging about 250,000 page views a year--is particularly special in the blogging world.
I'm sure there are thousands of blogs with audiences that dwarf ours. Heck, some porn sites probably get 1 million page views in a couple of hours' time. But it has been gratifying to learn that a fair number of people are interested in a profoundly important subject--the befouling of our courts.
For the record, we actually passed 1 million page views several months ago. I did not start keeping statistics on the blog right off the bat. If my memory is correct, four to six months went by before I signed up with a stat service. I didn't know such services existed when I started Legal Schnauzer, which shows how clueless I was "in the early days." (By the way, our "unique visitors" recently passed 700,000; guess it will take awhile to hit 1 million on that.)
Given that this is a one-man operation--with large doses of inspiration and constructive criticism from Mrs. Schnauzer--I'm pretty pleased that the words "Legal Schnauzer" have come to mean something in the blogosphere. We don't have a massive audience, but at the risk of sounding like an uber purist, I didn't set out to have a massive audience.
What did I set out to do? More than anything else, I wanted to accomplish these two things: (1) To call attention to the problem of corruption in our justice system, an issue that is mostly ignored in the mainstream press; (2) To write about legal corruption in a way that I didn't think was being presented anywhere else on the Web.
Are there other blogs out there like Legal Schnauzer? A blog called Lawless America, by a Georgia man named William M. Windsor, might be the closest comparator that I'm aware of. I've been impressed with Windsor's work, and I would encourage Schnauzer readers to check out his site.
Here are a few attributes that, I think, make our blog unusual, if not unique:
* We report on both our personal legal experiences and the experiences of other people;
* We report about people who are well known (Don Siegelman, Paul Minor) and folks who are not well known (Sherry Carroll Rollins, Angela Turner Drees). Some of our reports are local in nature; some have national and international implications;
* We report on civil cases and criminal cases and have developed a special interest in domestic-relations cases, focusing on ways the "justice system" abuses parents and children;
* We report on cases from my home state (Alabama), my region (the South), and around the country;
* We don't just tell readers that we think a judge or lawyer acted improperly. We show you how they acted improperly, or unlawfully, and back it up with citations to relevant law.
That last one might be the single most important feature of this blog. I certainly share my opinions on these digital pages, but most of our posts are based on facts and real law, supported by public documents, codes, statutes, case law, etc. I'm not an attorney, so I don't pretend to be a "know it all" about the law. But I never write a post without making a serious effort to understand the relevant law. In some cases, thoughtful readers have let me know when my research was off the mark or did not go deeply enough, in the right direction. In those cases, I've adjusted my reporting accordingly.
My background is in journalism, and I knew that credibility would be crucial if this blog was going to have an impact. That's why I've posted under my real name, from day one. And it's why I frequently link to real case law and use Scribd (a wonderful tool) to publish documents from real court cases. I did not want this blog to be a theoretical exercise; I wanted it to cut close to the bone--to show what can happen to people in court and give a sense for how it feels to be victimized.
That approach has come with a price. If I had chosen to write under a fake name, Mrs. Schnauzer and I still would have our jobs. If I had used my real name, but focused only on my opinion about various subjects, we probably would still have our jobs. If I had used my real name, but been way off base on my factual assertions, we might still have our jobs. After all, I've come to realize that folks in power don't worry much about opinions or reporting that isn't solidly based in facts. But if you focus on genuine reporting that is on target--and you do it under your own name--that makes powerful folks uncomfortable. And that can make you a target.
Do I have second thoughts about starting the blog, or the approach we have taken? No, I don't. I knew I could not live with myself if I just "let it go" on the cheat job Mrs. Schnauzer and I experienced in the courts of Shelby County, Alabama, where we live. And when I researched the Don Siegelman and Paul Minor cases, and came to understand what had been done to them, I knew I could not stay silent about that, either.
As for my approach, I think it was the only way to go. Anonymous blogging might work on some subjects, but I don't think it would have been appropriate for Legal Schnauzer. To have credibility, on a serious topic, I had to put myself out there. Four years and 1 million page views later, our reporting is still out there. And I hope, in time, we can help get our justice system back on track.
Perhaps now is a good time to address some of the most common questions I'm asked:
* How much money do you make off Legal Schnauzer? This one always makes me smile. The answer is zero. Given that Mrs. Schnauzer and I both have become unemployed because of certain posts herein, I might have lost more money on blogging than any other human. I've had a number of folks encourage me to run ads, and I've had quite a few inquiries from folks wanting to run ads, but I've decided against it. This never was meant as a commercial venture, and I want it to stay that way.
* What is the readership of Legal Schnauzer? I'm not aware of a tool that provides accurate readership information for blogs. (Here is a post that addresses some of the challenges involved.) The last time I checked Technorati, we had authority of 404 and a rank of 8,370, although I have no idea what that means--in terms of readership, or anything else. I can say that much of our work is either cross posted or picked up at several national Web sites--Daily Kos, OpEd News, BuzzFlash, FireDogLake, and Open Salon--and I'm pretty sure those sites have readership that is many times what ours is at Legal Schnauzer. Daily Kos, for example, generally ranks in the top 25 to 50 blogs on the planet. OpEd News has been in the top 100 several times. All readers at those sites, of course, do not read my contributions, but the same holds true for individual articles in newspapers. Here's a shot at some math, mixed with considerable guesswork: If you split the difference between our 1 million page views and 700,000 unique visitors, you have 850,000--and we could call those "significant reading experiences" (SRE) at Legal Schnauzer. I think it's safe to say that figure has been multiplied quite a few times from exposure at the aforementioned national sites. Does that mean we've had 5 million SREs? Probably. Have we had 10 million SREs? Maybe. Just how many readers have we reached? I don't know, but I'm thankful for every one of them.
* Aren't you afraid of being sued? I've been asked that a lot, and people usually are referring to someone getting pissed off and suing me for defamation, for portraying them in a false light and damaging their reputation. Am I worried about such a lawsuit? I don't spend much time thinking about it. For one, truth is an absolute defense against a defamation claim, and I have the documents to prove that my reporting has been factual. Two, anyone who tries to sue me knows their efforts are going to be reported here, in real time, and they probably aren't real comfortable with that prospect. Three, regular readers know I can represent myself in court, and anyone who files a bogus lawsuit against me is going to promptly get hit with a countersuit and a motion for sanctions. Four, you can get sued in America for not brushing your teeth, if it offends someone, so why worry about lawsuits?
* What impact does Legal Schnauzer have? Well, it's been cited in Congress. How many blogs can say that? My work has been cited by, or I've aided the reporting of, The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Harper's, Yahoo News, Huffington Post, Raw Story, and TPM Muckraker. My work has been picked up in Sweden, and we have quite a few readers from Europe, especially when we write about the WikiLeaks case. I suspect my work has provided background for reporters at any number of other news outlets--and I certainly welcome that, whether I get credit or not. I'm proud to have formed an alliance with Andrew Kreig, an attorney and journalist who is director of the Justice Integrity Project, based in Washington, D.C. I've appeared on national radio programs, such as the Peter B. Collins Show, the Thom Hartmann Show, and the Jeff Farias Show. More importantly, I sense that our blog has helped give a number of individuals an enhanced chance to achieve justice in our court system. That's where the proverbial rubber meets the road. Finally, I am grateful that this blog has helped me cross paths with some truly brave individuals, such as Alabama whistleblowers Jill Simpson and Tamarah Grimes. They care about getting our justice system back on track, and they know what it means to pay a price for speaking truth to power.
* Who reads Legal Schnauzer? If I had to point to one thing that makes me most proud about the blog, this would be it. Our numbers might not be huge, but blog stats tell me that the "quality" of our audience is pretty stout, certainly intriguing. We get loads of readers from colleges, universities, and government agencies. Many come from law firms, and we have about a dozen Alabama law firms that read us almost every day. We get regular visits from the U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Department of Justice (hmmm), uscourts.gov (double hmmm), and numerous media outlets. Perhaps most interesting is this: We've had at least four visits from "Executive Office of the President," in Washington, D.C. All of those have come since Barack Obama was elected. Does that mean that "Barry" himself is reading Legal Schnauzer while he tries to figure out what to do in Libya? I doubt it. Might well be a janitor who likes to kill time at our site. Or maybe Bo, the first family dog, likes the name of our blog and has learned how to find us by bouncing on a keyboard just so. Bottom line? We are thankful for all of our readers--in places both high and low.
* What's it like to practice real journalism in the blogosphere? That's a profound question. When our legal headaches started roughly 10 years ago, I had never heard of a blog; I'm not sure they existed then. If the mainstream media wasn't interested in your story--and they almost never are interested in court-related corruption--you had pretty much no way to reach the public. Blogs and social media have changed that--in dramatic fashion. In a sense, blogs are the great equalizer. They give the common person a method for fighting back against wrongdoers. And your reporting is particularly compelling when you can support it with facts--audio, video, court documents--as I have done on Legal Schnauzer.
Practicing real journalism in the blogosphere is never boring. From checking public documents, I have discovered information that literally made my jaw drop. We already have reported on such documents, with much more to come. Ironically, I never would have had time to find such information if someone had not cheated me out of my job. (Lesson No. 1 for bad guys: If a blogger is getting your goat, don't cost him his job; that will only give him time to get your goat even more.)
We mentioned the threat of lawsuits earlier, and I had an experience with that just the other evening. I was trying to interview a gentleman regarding one of our major storylines here at Legal Schnauzer--a subject I've already covered in several posts, with many more to come--and he obviously was not delighted to hear from me. He claimed he had a policy of not granting interviews to "bloggers''--never mind that I have 30-plus years of experience as a professional journalist--and tried to shrug me off on his PR guy. I reminded him that these were serious issues--that public documents indicate he brought a court case in Alabama that was handled in a grossly unlawful fashion, with him reaping significant benefits--and they did not involve his PR guy. He said he had to "rely on lawyers" and hinted that he couldn't help it if the other party got screwed in his case. That seemed to be an appropriate time to note that the other party had suffered in other ways, so I asked about allegations that he had engaged in acts of domestic violence. The fellow stated that I could face "certain liabilities" for publishing information that isn't factual. In other words, he was threatening me with a lawsuit.
The information I have, of course, is factual--and I can prove it. I suspect the gentleman knows that because he claimed to have dinner guests who required his immediate attention. I asked if the fellow could take my phone number and call me back when his dinner was over. He indicated that he would get back with me the next day, but I haven't heard from him.
Will the threat of a lawsuit keep me from reporting on this story? No, it will not. Will Legal Schnauzer readers be learning much more about this fellow and his abusive use of the Alabama court system? To borrow a phrase from Sarah Palin, "You betcha!"