A walk with a friend through Brussels in 2008. That is when the idea for the ECHR Blog first started to bubble in my mind. Today this blog with this post (no 1281!) marks exactly its 15th anniversary since its first post on 26 May 2008.
15 years ago, academic blogs were still a very new phenomenon. Law-related blogs barely existed. The friend (and wise scholar) with whom I wandered through Brussels, Jacco Bomhoff, had created one of the first ones in English in Europe, on comparative law. His enthusiasm for blogging and my own quirky predilection of being an amateur editor and lover of a graphic design (ever since my days as a highschool journal editor) and our walking conversation on how nice it would be to have a blog on European human rights propelled me into action once I returned home to Utrecht. So thank you, Jacco, for proving once again that the best ideas are developed while walking and in conversation with others. Artistotle's peripatetic method is still going strong!
Since its creation in 2008, the ECHR Blog has tried to chart new waters by being a combination of news on judgments and decisions of the Court, wider developments around the Court and Council of Europe and academic publication and events on ECHR-related topics. It thus in effect has aimed at two audiences: both practitioners and academics, including so-called 'pracademics' as one could describe many of us in the human rights community. It is now of course far from the only one doing so - the blogosphere has become much more crowded, with later created fantastic colleagues like EJILTalk! and Strasbourg Observers to name just two English-language ones who publish on the ECHR. From very special and small niche blogs on micro-topics within law to broad, newspaper-type blogs like the prolific Verfassungsblog. And of course, blogs are now just one among many outlets through which academics find and publish information beyond the traditional means - from Twitter and Mastodon to podcasting or even making animations (see one example of mine here) about one's research. Undoubtedly, soon AI will further new ways, welcome or not, of spreading and (re-) creating academic knowledge, also posing new challenges to what curated (academic) content entails.
Obviously, the usage of blog posts has also greatly developed. Initially considered only for mere quick thought experiments and seen as a quirky outlet for academics, blog posts are now fully accepted references in academic work (sometimes too easily so in student work without going to more fundamental primary sources). Like other forms of publications, the curated way of posting, including (fast track) review processes, in diverging degrees of quality, is crucial for the reliability of blogs. The subject-matter expertise of the small team running this blog as well as the knowledge of the people who submit posts helps to keep up the quality standard (although no doubt we too may have had glitches in precision at times).
It's teamwork, stupid!
On countless occasions, I have been asked how many people were working on the blog behind the scenes and my answer for the first twelve years - no one else, just me - was met with incredulity in the eyes of the person asking the question. Yet, the question was pertinent and in hindsight I do not always understand how I kept it running for so long on my own - it was indeed too fragile. I am thus indeed very happy that in the last few years, the blog has become teamwork within its home base, our Netherlands Institute of Human Rights (SIM). In 2020 fellow ECHR specialist (and the academic who personifies kindness in the workplace for that) Kushtrim Istrefi joined me in running the blog and has greatly helped to modernise it, including its new look since that time. And in 2020 our team was further strengthened with the addition of the great Matilda Radoš as assistant editor. And behind the screens subsequent SIM student assistants, currently the wonderful Annida Aqiila Putri, have helped to collect ECHR publications. The teamwork has obviously greatly improved the sustainability of the blog, led to renewal and enables it to post much more regularly. A huge thanks to all of you!
Still, the blog has been running on our own enthusiasm and over-hours with no single dime of funding ever, reflecting in that sense a true labour of love (although this raises other tough discussions on academic overstretch obviously!) and helping us to maintain our independence. And we, as editors, very much feel that love and interest in the blog being reciprocated. Like any medium a blog is nothing without its readers.
And there is also the direct community of fellow academic bloggers, social media users and journalists writing about human rights. I use community here on purpose as this blog functions not only in the standard networked way. This function has been very important in itself. Without the kind mutual linking of fellow blogs at the outset no one would have found out about this blog. And without the attentive friends - from fellow academics pointing us to workshops, conferences and publications or submitting very welcome guest posts to lawyers, civil servants, and even judges who provide us with input - this blog would be nowhere.
Nowadays, social media are almost a staple way for academics to self-promote their research and expertise. This can at worst lead to fragmentation of outlets, an emphasis on the individual rather than the collective and even have a narcist edge. But at best it forges new connections. How happily amazed I was when I met ECHR experts from Japan at an academic conference in Germany who told me they had found out about the event because of my blog. And my post on the Court's landmark Rantsev judgment led to a front page article on human trafficking in one of the major Dutch national newspapers.
But much more importantly, the blog has aimed to offer a platform for insights and publications from both new and established names, getting their writings out in much faster ways than books or journals would (and promoting the latter two once they are published). It thus indirectly has helped to forge connections with people with the same interests ('Aha, another crazy aficionado for the procedural aspects of Article 2!'). Also in that sense, it has hopefully helped to contribute to an ever-growing international Republic of Letters of scholars and students interested in the ECHR and human rights more widely.
Looking back to 15 years of ECHR blogging, I am happy to see it could reach so many readers. An anniversary milestone cannot do without some statistics and here they are: 1281 posts to date (this one included) and a staggering 3,362,367 pageviews. Our readers obviously come mostly from Europe, but also from far beyond it. When I looked up the geographical location of our readers, virtually every country in the world was included, even places where human rights information is censored or blocked online. This also means that students who otherwise have little means of accessing knowledge on human rights in any affordable way have at least a small portal to information about the ECHR and its Court.
In terms of what gets read, the idea from the outset of the blog, a platform of use for both academics and practitioners, is reflected in our most read posts. In the top five since the blog's creation there are two commentaries on judgments (on copyright versus freedom of expression and on the Women on Waves judgment), two posts on very practical matters (an admissibility criteria checklist and a post on states with structural or systemic problems) and - not a surprise - a commentary on the Covid-19 pandemic and the ECHR. Two of these five are guest posts, including the most read one - showing how much this blog grows on the fertile ground of expertise and input from beyond the core team.
May this blog remain, as I wrote in its first post, a living instrument which feeds into the needs and curiosities of its readers. All contributions and suggestions of you, our readers, remain very welcome. On to the next 15 years!
Antoine Buyse, founder of the ECHR Blog
PS: As our attentive readers may have noticed, in all those years we tried to use a different picture or photo for every single post. Today, I am making an exception by re-using the illustration of the very first post from 2008, a map of Europe from Joan Blaeu's famous 17th-century Atlas Maior.