LexBlog Leaders: Bill Marler Builds an Empire with Blogs
If you ask Bill Marler what’s evolved in the more than ten years since he’s been blogging he’ll tell you it’s not much.
“I know there’s a lot more lawyers out there blogging—or someone is blogging for them—the landscape is much more crowded. But I don’t pay much attention to that,” said Marler. “I’m basically doing the same thing that I was doing ten years ago.”
Of course that’s a bit modest. Though he now boasts a blog network that regularly helps create the narrative around food pathogen outbreaks around the world, back in 2004 he says he hadn’t even heard of blogging. But after a lunch with Kevin O’Keefe he decided to give it a go, with the E. Coli Blog. For the first few years he only posted about two hundred times total. But after an outbreak of e. Coli-infected spinach that claimed a handful of lives and sickened many more, Marler decided to ratchet up the blogging, and really begin “chronicling what he does.”
“I’m now pushing about 6000 blog posts, and most of those have occurred since the late fall of 2006,” said Marler. “It was [because] of that outbreak, and just how complex it was and horrible for my clients. I felt like I had really gotten my writing voice.”
And others started taking note. Since then the attention has just been pouring in—and the output has only increased.
Marler expanded his blogging empire to include various pathogen specific blogs (Campylobacter, Botulism, Salmonella, and more he refers to as his “bug blogs”), Food Poison Journal, as well as his own personal Marler Blog. He says his blogs get a “fairly high volume of traffic” that includes reporters and even legislators, as he learned earlier this week after getting back from a couple weeks in New Zealand and Hawaii.
“I got a call from a state senator asking what I thought, what kinds of legislation he could advance to prevent [the Hepatitis A outbreak] from happening again, [and] what he should do with respect to making food safer in Hawaii,” said Marler. “[The blogs] have made a lot of people follow what I say; it’s not unusual for something I write to get pulled off the blog and put in a story by a reporter. It’s been really useful to create my voice and get my message out about what I think about food safety.”
These days he says Marler Blog is the only one he’s blogging on consistently; it’s where he puts what he’s up to as a lawyer and a person, info on his speeches and here he’s headed next. But if you ask him what he’s proudest of from his decade plus blogging, it’s the blog he claims the least responsibility for: Food Safety News.
He launched the blog back in 2008, when there was an uptick of foodborne illness outbreaks at the same time as a handful of layoffs for journalists around the country who covered this sort of thing. Since then it’s always been three, full-time journalists, breaking stories and covering news in the food safety realm.
“Arguably my blogs have some economic advantage to myself or my law firm, but if you went on Food Safety News you’d have no idea; it doesn’t say ‘Bill Marler’s Food Safety News.’ In the about thing I eplain that I fund it, but I think over the years people have become trusting that Food Safety News is not Bill Marler’s mouthpiece,” said Marler, who says that he’s still introduced around the world as “publisher of Food Safety News.”
“I get comments from people all over the world, ‘the first thing I do in the morning is read Food Safety News.’ I hear from a lot of government officials—the head of the FDA once said at a conference that Food Safety News is the newspaper of record on food safety in America…I’m really proud of the work the reporters have done over time.”
Meanwhile, Marler has ensured that all the lawyers at his firm take up the gauntlet and blog every once and awhile. He admits that he doesn’t give them a choice, but he also helps them with topic ideas and tries to make the experience positive. After almost twelve years of blogging, he’s got a fairly compelling case.
“Frankly I think I have something to say, and on this platform I get to say what I want. Then people can judge what you write and who you are, they can judge for themselves whether you’re a legitimate person,” said Marler. “I’m spending a lot of time staying up on what the heck is going on in my field. In some respects it’s kind of a push and pull relationship; it pulls you to find information and you’re pushing information out to better inform the public.”