#Journo100 Profile: SCOTUSblog

SCOTUS blog
As part of the Ebyline/E&P 100% Journalism Challenge, we’re profiling examples of 100% journalism to find out what challenges, mistakes and triumphs come with the responsibility for covering a topic completely. Enter the 100% Journalism Challenge by Oct. 12 and win up to $35,000 to spend on your 100% journalism idea.

Lawyers Tom Goldstein and Amy Howe’s popular SCOTUSblog is not just any legal blog. Boasting 200,000 unique visitors per month during the U.S. Supreme Court’s summer recess (effectively the off-season), and one million during landmark decisions like the Affordable Care Act, this Bloomberg Law-sponsored blog has become the go-to authoritative voice on reporting and analyzing all Supreme Court cases and decisions. Ebyline caught up with editor Amy Howe to discuss the advantages and challenges of running a 100 percent operation, and her advice for others who want to start covering a topic so completely.

Content on SCOTUSblog is all about the Supreme Court. What challenges does focusing entirely on that one branch of government pose?

Our biggest challenge is generating content when the court is not in session, particularly during the summer recess, which starts at the end of June and continues until the end of September, and the mid-winter recess, which lasts about a month in a period that spans mid-January to late February. We want our regular readers to find new substantive content when they come to the site every day. To that end, during the summer we have recently begun holding online “symposia” focusing on big issues that are pending on the court’s docket or may be on the docket soon.

What advantages are there to focusing 100 percent of your content on the Supreme Court?

There are a few different advantages. First, it gives us a limiting principle – we don’t have to be all things to all people. Second, the court’s docket and the goings on at the court are on a small enough scale that we can provide near-comprehensive coverage and over time really start to feel like we have an excellent grip on how the court works. Third, because our focus is only on the court, it gives us a level of credibility so that we can become one of the go-to sites when something like health care is happening at the court, which in turn generates more regular readers.

How does focusing on one subject change the nature of reporting, audience, etc.?

Particularly in the beginning, we wrote for an audience that we believed to be made up of lawyers and law students, so we tended to write on a fairly high level. In recent years, we have tried to broaden our coverage to be more accessible to non-lawyers, both in terms of how our posts are written and by adding special features like our “Plain English” and “Made Simple” columns, designed specifically for non-lawyers.

How many absolute unique visitors are you seeing a month on your blog, and how responsible for its success is the concept of 100 Percent Journalism?

It will vary tremendously depending on what the court is doing — from 200,000 in the summer, when the court is not in session, to 1 million when things are busy at the court. Certainly, most of our reputation derives from being objective specialists on the court.

Do you think the future of news will be less bundled and more super-specialized? Why or why not?

I do—for two related reasons. First, with the decline of traditional print and TV media, many if not all news organizations have fewer resources to devote to particular topics like the court – especially when, as with the court, a topic does not generate news on a day-in, day-out basis. Second, with the advent of the Internet, people can — and I think want to — focus on niche coverage, so there is more of a demand for super-specialized news. I imagine that these two reasons together are the classic chicken-and-egg problem.

What advice would you give to anyone considering starting a 100 Percent Journalism project, focusing entirely on a specific niche?

I would focus on a niche that you really enjoy, expect to put a lot of work into it, posting every day if possible, and be patient. Our blog is now 10 years old, and I feel like we’re really hitting our stride now.

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About Tim Sohn

Tim Sohn is a freelance writer and editor. He can be reached at timothyjsohn@gmail.com and on Twitter @editortim. Also, check out his website at TimothyJSohn.com.

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