Professor A. Michael Froomkin started JOTWELL, The Journal of Things We Like (Lots), as a way to identify and promote new and engaging legal scholarship. Hundreds of lawyers contribute content, including three Miami Law professors who are section editors and seven who are contributing editors, representing about a quarter of the tenured faculty. Miami Law goes behind the screen with Froomkin on his legal blog that is consistently listed in the ABA's Annual Blawg 100:
Jotwell’s now been around since 2009. What was behind the motivation to start another journal? What was missing in the academic cyberspace?
I had three motivations for starting Jotwell. First, it was striking how law, unlike economics, history, and many social sciences, did not tend to run review articles of scholarship. In economics, for example, there is an entire journal, the Journal of Economic Literature (JEL), which specializes in articles synthesizing new scholarship in various sub-fields of economics. In law there was just a huge gap, filled only by the Michigan Law Review annual book review issue, a couple other similar efforts, and a few specialist blogs. I aimed more for the New York Review of Books style than the JEL because I wanted something very readable, but the fact I could do so shows you how big the gap was.
Second, my work on the internet led me to believe that the solution to the 'firehose problem' -- so much content! -- was intermediaries.
Third, I blame my laundry machine. I have very little small talk, so when at academic conferences I commonly would ask people what was good in their field that I should read. I would write the names of the articles they suggested on pieces of paper which I would then pocket ... and launder when I got home. I was usually unable to read anything from the little balls of paper that resulted. Now I have 300 of the best and smartest lawyers telling me what to read -- and giving me crib notes when I don't have time to do the reading, and web pages don't end up in the laundry.
How has Jotwell grown over the years, both in scope and in size?
We started with I think seven sections, and now we have 22 plus the somewhat infrequent Classics section (normal sections review works published in the last 2 years; classics is for unjustly neglected works that are at least 50 years old). We published three times a week at first, now we are at five per week, and thinking we may need to add Saturdays eventually.
Can you talk a little about your crowning achievements with Jotwell?
Just getting it out regularly. I have also enjoyed working with the students who do a lot of the editing and organizing. I am also very gratified by the emails I get from the people we review – it means a lot to some of the less-well-known ones to know that someone is reading and cares about their work.
Where do you see Jotwell going in the next five years?
I'm really not sure. We've now reached if not exceeded my hopes in terms of coverage and domestic academic readership; I'd like to expand U.S. student and foreign academic readership, but I think we've hit steady state in the U.S. with U.S. law professors.
At some point, I may start looking for someone to take over, either as a co-editor, or even as full-time Editor-in-Chief. Maybe it’s time to start something new?
What’s with the name, JOTWELL? It is inspirational.
I wanted something catchy, and it had to be a domain name that wasn’t taken. I tried to come up with something recursive (like my mail program, PINE, which stands for “Pine is not Elm” [an even older mail program]). To ‘jot’ is to put something on paper; to jot well is perhaps to do it well. It’s not quite an acronym, but it’s close.
I do like to think that we are enriching scholarly conversation but that is hard to measure. I do know that we are achieving my goal of making it easier for people to keep up with developments outside their main sub-field, if only because it works for me: I know that I have learned a tremendous amount from reading the ‘jots’ we publish. I built the site I wanted to read, and I still love reading it.