When I started WaywardWomen in April 2012, I wanted to create a space where I could explore the themes and points of interest in my PhD project – but more than this, I wanted to create a place in which I could share and exchange my ideas with others – be that academic scholars, to those with a more general interest in the topics, and everyone in between. My hope, perhaps a naive one, was that WaywardWomen would allow me to become a better researcher, a better writer, and a more thorough thinker. The wonders of the internet and social networking sites like Twitter also allowed me to take the vital step it starting to associate my name and work with the subjects that I hope to build my academic reputation around. This is an experience that any anxious PhD student will tell you is invaluable at such an early point in their career. I am thrilled to say that the last year or so of running WaywardWomen has helped me to achieve all of these goals, and more, just as those who encouraged me to take up blogging said it would.
Yet, in all my haste to set up and begin publishing my thoughts and work on my blog, I wish I had taken a little more time to listened to the few people who cautioned me against it. Despite the fantastic attention and reputation that academic blogs are now enjoying, there can be some serious drawbacks – one of which I experienced last week.
On the 25th June, I was tweeted a link of a Daily Mail article that started ‘Edwardian Rogues Gallery’ by a friend and former lecturer. It was with surprise and a fair bit of horror that I opened the article to find my own work staring back at me, with somebody else’s name posted at the top.
Back in May this year, I published a post titled ‘Birmingham’s Brewery Blacklist’. This piece looked at a collection of habitual drunkards from turn of the century Birmingham which Ancestry.com had released back in 2010. The original records covered both male and female offenders, but given my research interests, and the interest of those that follow and read my blog, I wrote a piece profiling the commonalities the female drunkards shared. The post contained all original work – and several of my own statistics, which all took time and effort to compile. The Daily Mail had already covered the press release of the original records in 2010, and I could not account for them suddenly deciding to run an almost identical (down to the selection of the same six photographs) piece to mine – focussing on women and using many of the commonality profiles I had – out of the blue three years later.
I took my worries to Twitter and was soon informed that it was not only the DM, but also Telegraph, Express, Birmingham Daily Post, and others that had run a paraphrased version of my work, under the name of several authors. A fellow PhD student – and former journalist – later explained that it appeared that my work had been picked up by the South West News Agency, and circulated to a selection of national newspapers without my knowledge or consent. Most upsettingly, a collection of unscrupulous journalist were then able to present my work to thousands of readers under their own names without any acknowledgement to myself, or my blog.
In the following days several other well renowned history bloggers consoled me, and warned me that this kind of behaviour was far from common. On attempting to contact the individual journalists, or the papers that they work for, I was met, quite unsurprisingly, with a wall of silence. We quite rightly spend a good deal of time promoting, and discussing the many merits of running a blog – none of which I disagree with. But it is the above type of experiences that those who write blogs, and those that enjoy them are not talking about nearly enough. Blogging exposed my work to an amazing number and range of people who I could never have hoped to have reached before. It helped me to make new connections with other scholars, who helped me to refine my ideas. Numerous other people also offered input that will undoubtedly make me a better historian in the future. For these experiences I am exceedingly grateful. But blogging also exposed me to those who wanted to take my intellectual property – to sell it, and pass it off as their own. A problem all of us need to be far more concerned with.
Since April 2012 I have thoroughly enjoyed blogging, and I would still recommend it to anyone. But, bloggers, beware . . . let’s start talking about the problems and perils of blogging (as there are clearly some pretty huge ones) as much as we talk about the benefits. That way, in the future, situations like mine might be avoided.
Let’s hope the press agencies pick this post up – acknowledge where it came from – and publish it. They have my full consent to do so . . .
But somehow, I rather doubt it.