A Year of Blogging on Environmental Europe

Viviane Gravey, Jonas Schoenefeld |

Buzzing with fresh ideas on how to make our voices heard beyond the infamous academic ‘Ivory Tower’ after a UACES Student Forum Seminar in London in autumn 2013 and a course on social media at the University of East Anglia (UEA), we decided to set up this blog as a joint project. Given that it’s now a little more than a year since we started, we would like to step back and reflect on our experience. Whether you write your own blog or are thinking to start one, we hope that our reflection will prove helpful.

Why we started blogging

Looking back at a year of blogging, it’s good to remind ourselves why we started blogging. Blogging felt like a good idea in order to engage with the policy world outside academia, and to learn how to write for a more general, and often non-academic, audience. We also hoped that blogging would help us to crystallize our ideas early and discuss them with others. This is particularly relevant in the academic world that we inhabit at the moment. Starting our PhDs, we soon realized how focusing on a single project can be at times limiting, while blogging constantly stimulates us to think differently and keep abreast of what is happening beyond our focus areas. A year on, we still feel excited about blogging and have learned and achieved a great deal.

What we’ve achieved in a year

Looking at the year as a whole, we published 30 posts in 2014, about a third of which were written by eight guest authors. We had over 3,200 individual visitors on our blog, who used the blog in over 4,500 sessions. So a big thanks to all our readers, and especially those who have gotten in touch with us. Our blog-specific Twitter account now has steadily grown to over 90 followers. We published posts on a range of topics, including hollowing out in UK climate politics, the bonnet rouges in France, Germany’s new government and many commentaries on the European elections and institutional set-up. We also wrote on different aspects of environment and climate policy: lots on the run-up to the international climate negotiations in Paris this year but also on EU environmental policy in general and certain items in particular (agriculture/environment, environmental taxation).

What we’ve learned

How can we evaluate our work one year on? Arguably we can do so in at least two ways: judge the success of the output (the blog) and evaluate what we learned in the process of blogging.

On the output side, we’ve managed to cover a variety of different topics, from a variety of perspectives – but we remain a relatively specialized writing for a comparatively specialized audience. In some instances, we engaged in discussions with our readers, who often impressed us with extensive knowledge of the subject area. However, we fell somewhat short of our initial goal to engage with a broader, non-academic audience.

But arguably the crux of this year’s success rests in the blogging process itself, the skills we’ve acquired and the fun we’ve had doing it. We both spent hours and hours on our first posts, trying to strike the right tone and language for this medium. Early on, we learned how blogging is also a wonderful way to focus one’s thoughts and crystallize key aspects of an issue of importance – but that doing so can be a challenge within a 700-1000 word limit. We also had long debates about how much evidence we needed to make a point: while we generally seek to substantiate our arguments as much as possible, we sometimes had to be quick and perhaps even tentative to participate in ongoing public debates. On the whole, blog-writing is definitely very different from academic writing, but we highly recommend the practice as a key opportunity for testing new ideas and serialised scholarship.

And before we knew it, our activities grew into more than ‘just’ writing: by reviewing each other’s drafts and those of our guest-authors, we quickly found ourselves in editorial roles, and had to make important decisions about editorial lines and standards on our blog. Blogging has also linked us with other bloggers, who invited us to contribute a post on the new Commission and climate policy to the PSA Environment Blog, as well as a piece to UEA’s Eastminster Blog focusing on the European Parliament. As a result of this blog, we have thus engaged with writing and publication from the perspective of authors, but also as editors working and engaging with the thoughts of our contributors.

What next?

A key goal for 2015 will be to reach a wider audience, and hopefully people who have so far not engaged with our blog. To this end, we decided to grow our team, and would like to welcome Brendan Moore, who has already written for our blog, as a partner in this project. Brendan will be involved both as an author and editor, and undoubtedly his sharp mind and critical eye will be an excellent addition. We will also be looking for guest authors to contribute to this project. As we’ve launched ourselves into the blogging universe, we’re happy to help others keen to do the same. Please do get in touch if you would like to contribute a post or if you have any ideas on how to improve this project.