Why does blogging matter? Meet last year’s Duckies!

Guest post by Eva Brittin-Snell, International Relations, University of Sussex

Follow Eva at: @SageStudents

disordered-ducksBlogging is fast becoming the go-to source for informative and opinionated perspectives. Speaking as a student of International Relations, blogs are a brilliant and easily accessible resource for gaining a deeper understanding of world affairs. As well as being more concise than news articles and academic journals, the more personal and flexible nature of blogs makes them a far more engaging resource. With turbulent international relations comes plenty of room for ignorance, and the Duckies praise those who are helping to reduce this ignorance by blogging about topics that matter.

With the 2015 Duckies awards being announced tonight, we thought it would be interesting to talk to previous prize winners. We interviewed this year’s finalist and last year’s winner of the ‘Best Blog (Individual)’ category, Jay Ulfelder from Dart Throwing Chimp, last year’s winner of the ‘Best New Blog’ category, Cheryl Rofer from Nuclear Diner, and this year’s finalist and last year’s winner of the ‘Best Blog (Group) category, Jonathan Grady from Political Violence @ a Glance.

Why did you start the blog?

Jay: I started the blog as a way to try to develop and expand my professional reputation—in a word, marketing. I had left a salaried job to try my hand at freelancing and was trying to find ways to connect to potential clients and colleagues. I had some professional experience as a writer, so a blog struck me as a good way to do that.

Cheryl: We started Nuclear Diner because the three of us felt we have something unique to say about nuclear issues. All of us have experience in that field, but our approaches and opinions do not line up easily with the anti- and pro-nuclear (weapons or power) opinions that one usually sees. We believe that nuclear power will be necessary to deal with global warming, but we feel that the expansion needs to be done with adequate care for safety. We would like to see nuclear weapons eliminated, but we see reasons that that isn’t going to happen for a long time.

How do you choose the topics you blog about?

Jay: I almost never plan posts and usually just start writing because I have an urge to do that. Mostly, I read something and am motivated to react to it, or I am working on something and reach a point where I have some findings that I expect will interest other people. That said, I mostly stick to a few recurrent themes—political instability, democratization, and forecasting—and I try to avoid posting things that might bore or surprise regular readers in a bad way.

Cheryl: We restrict our topics to the fields in which we have some experience. That means nuclear science and the political issues that relate to nuclear weapons and civilian nuclear power. We have experience working in Russia, Estonia, and Kazakhstan and considering policies relating to those countries, so we cover those topics too.

Probably the most common way we choose topics for Nuclear Diner is to look at the news: the technical issues associated with the negotiations with Iran, the drum that burst in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, and, recently, Russia, Ukraine, Russia, Ukraine, Russia. Less often one of us finds a topic that is consistently treated poorly in the media, and we write a post explaining it.

Jonathan: We don’t choose topics so much as we choose scholars. The scholars who we showcase are all experts in their particular field. We encourage them to write on whatever topic they choose and then put it through an internal review process.

What do you find challenging when writing your blog?

Jay: I am perpetually ambivalent about blogging. On the one hand, it’s great to have a place where I can scratch the itch to write about things that interest me and can connect with other people who share those interests. On the other hand, blogging takes time, and that’s time I could have spend doing or pursuing paid work—which the blog is not—or doing things with or for my family. So far, the urge to keep writing has won out and I’ve been able to afford that choice, but at some point I’m sure the balance will tip the other way. Or people will just get sick of my voice and will effectively make the choice for me.

Do you think that the recent increase of blogging and vlogging phenomena has the potential to influence world politics in some way?

Cheryl: Sometimes it seems that an idea we have put forth is taken up at higher levels, but it is impossible to trace that without asking the people who take it up. That’s not always possible. Certainly social media more generally are influencing world politics. It seems that that influence may be in the direction of too-quick, emotional reactions, however.

Jonathan: Yes, if done well, we think blogging has the ability to get high quality analysis directly into the hands of policymakers, allowing them to make better decisions.  Our goal at [email protected] is to take the very best evidence-based research and apply it to real-world problems. We think this can only have positive effects.

What do you think of the Duckies?

Jay: I’m biased, of course, but I think the Duckies are great. There’s a lot of excellent blogging about international affairs nowadays, and the Duckies help expose some of that work and validate it for a wider audience.

Cheryl: We think the Duckies are a great idea – consistent with the good humor and informality blogs bring to intellectual discussion. Nuclear Diner is getting more attention from people in the social sciences as a result of our Duckie.

Jonathan: The Duckies are great for two reasons. First, it signals to academic departments that blogging is valued by the profession and deserves to be rewarded. Second, it signals to the world outside academia that there is certainly well-done scholarly work that people may not be aware of by scholars today. The combination of blogging and award recognition for the accomplishments of scholarly blogging offers a window for people from the outside of the academic community to see worthwhile research coming from International Relations.

  • The list of the 2015 finalists can be found here
  • Dart Throwing Chimp can be found here
  • Nuclear Diner can be found here
  • Political Violence @ a Glance can be found here
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