A Blogger Breaks Free: Blog Reax

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 29 2015 @ 3:15pm

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Joe Jervis completely understands my decision to stop blogging:

Man, do I get this. Anybody who does live news blogging knows all too well the havoc this kind of work can wreak upon your personal life. Sure, there’s great freedom to be able to work wherever you are and any time. But you also have to work wherever you are and at any time. I’ve blogged from trains, planes, buses, ferries, taxis, airports, “vacation” hotel rooms, and from the backseats of cars. I’ve angered and hurt close friends by leaving parties to update a breaking story or by turning down invitations because something is about to happen. (These days those invitations often close with a tart “if you can leave your computer.”) I do love what I do, but yeah, I get you Andrew Sullivan. I’ve strongly disagreed with you on many occasions, but this, I get.

Rod Dreher can relate:

Blogging professionally is one of those jobs like being a movie critic. Everybody thinks it’s easy, until they try to do it. It’s not so much that you have to stay “on” all the time as it’s that you can’t turn it off. When Andrew says he’s burned out, I believe him. In the past four years, I’ve written two books, and am in the process of finishing co-writing a third, all the while continuing doing this blog, and other writing projects.

And I’m not complaining! I really love my job. But for reasons outside of my control, the work got incredibly intense for the last three months of the year, and I lost my health again (though I seem to be bouncing back, Deo gratias). It’s stress. I regret to say that I don’t know how to unplug digitally. I can’t stand still in a line without checking e-mail, approving blog comments, living digitally. That’s messed up.

What’s even more messed up is that I love this stuff. I really do. This is the best job I’ve ever had, and the best I can imagine having. And every time I start feeling worn out, I’ll be driving and seeing some guy busting their butts on a road crew in the Louisiana sun, and I’ll realize how easy I have it.

Ross tweets:

Peter Suderman calls me “a formative influence” on his own writing:

Sullivan modeled for me what blogging could be—curious and informative and funny and personal and detailed and reader-friendly and important and enjoyably trivial, often all at the same time—while simultaneously introducing me to a vast array of ideas and voices that I might never have otherwise encountered. …

I’ll admit I didn’t read him nearly as much over the past couple years, but I still checked in occasionally, and I was always happy to see that he was still going. I’ll miss knowing that he’s writing and arguing and linking. He was enough of a fixture that it’s almost hard to imagine the blogosphere, as it used to be called, without him around. I hope he returns every now and then to check in on the online world he helped create, and I wonder if he’ll really be able to stay away.

Steve Waldman lists seven ways in which the Dish helped create what blogging is. Two of them:

How to use a link. No, he didn’t invent the “a href,” but he was one of the first to understand that “merely” pointing to something interesting written by someone else was a service to readers, not an admission of inadequacy. And he was among the first to follow (or create) proper “netiquette” of giving attribution. It was on Sullivan’s blog that I first saw the annotation “h/t.”

The readers as experts. In the early days of the internet, there was deep suspicion and confusion about how to incorporate user input. Most media outlets decided to bring in readers through raucous commenting areas. Sullivan was one of the first to feature deep, detailed stories from his readers—stories that provided expertise either on a technical topic or a personal experience. He has viewed his readers as teachers, reporters, and collaborators. I learned as much from his “the view from your Obamacare” as most newspaper survey pieces. The “it’s so personal” thread provided textured accounts by women who’d had abortions.

Meanwhile, Alex Pareene calls bullshit on my blog exit. He points out that the “announcement comes nearly exactly ten years after the last time he announced that he was stepping away from blogging”:

blog archivesIn the month of February, 2005, following his announcement, Sullivan went on to publish 52 additional blog posts, totaling nearly 13,000 additional words. In March, 2005, he posted 47 posts, totaling 14,000 words. In April, he announced that he had “given up on [his] decisions to drastically reduce [his] blogging commitments.”Instead, he said, he’d stopped blogging in “the early hours,” though he was now getting up earlier and blogging “post-coffee in the morning.”

As you can see in the accompanying screenshot of Sullivan’s Dish archives, in the nine months following Sullivan’s 2005 announcement that he was stepping down from blogging, he updated The Dish 1,564 times.

Andrew Sullivan is not retiring from blogging.

Erik Kain wants the blog to live on:

I say, let The Dish go on, with or without Sullivan. So long as the driving ethos remains intact, there’s no reason to call it quits entirely.

Sullivan can take on an executive producer role, or simply let his name and fame remain attached to the project. Then he can bring in some of the more interesting names in online media to write in his stead—semi-permanent guest bloggers, if you will. There are so many talented writers out there, including many who disagreed vehemently with Sullivan, who he nevertheless linked to. The spotlight wasn’t only reserved for sycophants. This is an opportunity to go even further, to give a podium to many of the best thinkers and writers out there. It would be a terrible waste to call the whole thing off.

Conor Friedersdorf, a Dish alum, makes the case for continuing without me:

Perhaps The Dish could continue to render that service to rising writers and readers eager to discover them. With its eclectic history of guest-bloggers, one can imagine the site evolving into something like Saturday Night Live, with a guest host each week to put their stamp on the broadcast even as they work with a staff that keeps continuity and produces its own stars. It’s hard to overstate how much such opportunities mean to young people struggling to make it in a field where getting recognized for one’s voice and ideas isn’t guaranteed. As a writer, I won over many a longtime reader thanks to my time at The Dish. There are a dozen writers who I follow each week that I wouldn’t have discovered without it.

The community of Dish readers is another feature of the site that is worth conserving. They are a delightfully diverse group, possessed of a public-spirited willingness to share, via email, impressively informed, thoughtful perspectives on most any subject. Marijuana use as a successful adult, whether to spank children, the experience of having a late-term abortion–on those subjects and so many others, the Dish community has produced engaging collections of insight, debate, and personal narratives unlike any I’ve seen elsewhere. In attracting these correspondents and inspiring them to share their ideas across ideologies and identities, Sullivan mediated something that may well be impossible to recreate if it disappears.

Ann Althouse differs:

I’ve been going for 11 years — less than Sullivan’s 15 — but I know that blogging only works because the spirit is there. You have to thrive on the intrinsic energy of the writing itself. When the magic is gone, you can’t do it, if you really know what blogging is. If you bring other people in to do it for you, then it’s not your blog anymore. Maybe those other people — and Sullivan had brought in other people — can take off and become real bloggers in their own right, but if they’re keeping “your” blog going and your spirit of blogging is depleted, it’s over, and in the name of The Spirit of True Blogging, you should face that fact, stop, and move on into a life that does have intrinsic meaning for you.

Alyssa Rosenberg contemplates the current state of blogging:

The subject of burnout frequently comes up when people talk about changes in blogging. But for me – and I suspect for entrepreneurs like those building Vox – some of these shifts in pace and style are also a pace of the way people read. I expect a lot of you come in through social media, and maybe don’t read me regularly at all (though if you decide to stick around, I run a dandy chat every Monday).

Bloggers these days have to speak to our loyal readers, and there are many of you who have been kind enough to come with me from outlet to outlet. But when we become part of larger outlets, that means we can’t speak to you alone anymore. Sullivan had an enormous reach, but the Dish still felt like it was very much written for a specific group of readers who were a known quantity. That’s a quality I think might be passing from the scene, and the conversation will be different for it.

Chris Taylor likewise feels that “personal blogging for a mass audience has pretty much gone the way of the dodo”:

These days, if you have something to say and it won’t fit in a single tweet (or a tweetstorm), you have so many more compelling options than blogging. You can post on Facebook if it’s just for friends, or Tumblr if it’s image-based, or on Medium if you want a think piece shared more widely, or LinkedIn, or any one of a hundred other sites and services that are thirsty for content.

About the last thing you’d do is willingly maintain your own site, especially not in an age where your readers are as likely to be on phones or tablets as desktop browsers. Who still does that kind of one-man operation? It’s hard to bring successful examples to mind that aren’t speaking to a very niche audience — such as John Gruber’s Daring Fireball, an extremely minimalist site that looms large in the world of Apple fandom.

Dylan Byers, for one, declares blogging dead:

Sullivan was able to keep blogging alive (and lucrative) long after the era of blogs had come to an end — at The Atlantic, at The Daily Beast, and, in recent years, through the funding of readers. It’s also true that Sullivan’s influence has waned of late. While there is still some demand for Sullivan’s outspokenness — he’s at his best when he’s arguing, aggressively — there is far less demand for unspecialized aggregation. If you scroll down from Sullivan’s latest post, there’s a reader-submitted photograph, then a pull from a Slate article about flip-flopping, then a pull from a Time article about marijuana legalization. This is vintage Sullivan, but it flies in the face of all conventional wisdom about what makes media sites work: namely, specialization and original content.

Chris Cillizza counters:

The idea inherent in all of the death knells for blogging is that blogging is any one thing. It’s not. As I explain to anyone who will listen to me  an ever-shrinking populace  a “blog” is simply a publishing medium. It’s a way to put content on the Internet  usually a fast and, relatively, user-friendly way. But, the conflating a publishing medium with a sort of online writing  opinionated, snarky  that tends to be the preferred approach of many of its users is a mistake. …

For me, the idea of a blog — or blogging  that works is reported analysis told through a variety of textual and visual mediums. You could call them  as newspapers tend to do  “analysis” pieces and run them as articles. You could call them— as the graphics world does  data visualizations and run them as infographics. The bigger point is: It’s journalism, on the Web. It doesn’t matter what word you ascribe to it.

Adam Tinworth is on the same page:

The one thing that this isn’t is any sign of the “death of blogging”. You only have to glance a Tumblr and the growth in fashion blogging and the explosion of Medium and all the rest of it to see that, as Kevin Marks wrote in 2008, blogging is like air.

Or, to put it another way, blogging won. Everything from your Facebook newsfeed to a Pinterest board has something of the characteristics of the medium. Blogging is so deeply entwined with the web itself that we don’t even really need the word any more.

Ben Smith gets nostalgic for the good old days:

Andrew spent parts of the last few years raging against advertising and pressing ahead with a subscription model that could only work with the most devoted audience on the web — and perhaps not even then. I felt an old loyalty to him — as a reader who started hitting refresh compulsively right after 9/11, when I was reporting in Kiev and he was a lifeline to the American conversation — that prevented me from ever really getting worked up about his attacks on us. And indeed, I’ll still miss that feeling of seeing a stream of links to andrewsullivan.com pop up in my SiteMeter, and knowing that my polite, tentative email had won me coveted access to his loyal, thoughtful, old-school blog readers.

PM Carpenter is similarly thankful for the readers we sent him over the years:

I have heard from many of you that you found my site through The Dish, and I must say what’s unique about that is rarely do such major sites acknowledge the small ones. Sullivan and his staff never played the insider-bloggers’ “club” game; if they found a piece interesting or worthy of note, they noted it, and it made no difference that its author was not of national notoriety. That helped my overall readership a great deal, it was damned refreshing, wonderfully democratic, and just plain decent of them.

Jonathan Bernstein shares that sentiment:

I’ll miss his voice and, more importantly, his central contribution to the cooperative, rigorous, fascinating culture of blogging. As I said on Twitter yesterday, without Sullivan, political scientists would still only be heard from when they were willing to supply the exact quote that a reporter wanted to support a story. Sullivan’s support for political science bloggers was early, and it was decisive. On a personal level, I owe him more thanks than I can ever express for his support, beginning very early in my blogging career.

Dan Drezner wishes me well:

Andrew explains his desire to return to more introspective work, which I completely understand. Over the years, the pressure of instant commentary caused Sullivan to overreach on occasion in his blog posts – a fact that he acknowledged, which makes him unlike an awful lot of the bloggers who followed in his wake.

I do hope, however, that Andrew doesn’t leave his passion behind with the blog. Sullivan’s rhetorical style was perfectly suited for the blogosphere. Unlike 99.9 percent of the political writers on this planet, Sullivan wrote best when he wrote with passion. More than most, he was able to channel strong emotions into erudite real-time prose.

Hemant Mehta reflects on the debt he owes the Dish:

I’ve learned a ton from him over the years just by watching him go independent (and remain financially stable), shut off comments (while still giving readers a chance to contribute to the conversation), give voice to those who disagree with him, change his mind publicly on a variety of things, put his emotions into writing even if he may later regret it, and cultivate a staff that can seamlessly run the site even when he’s on a break.

None of that is easy to do, and he’s done it brilliantly. I know my own style has been influenced by his work more so than just about any blogger out there.

And James Poulos is looking forward to what comes next:

Andrew’s combative, omnivorous mind is built to blog, but his heart has long beaten with a melancholy that the internet seems built to crowd far out of view. Like any student of Oakeshott, he knows that even small stretches of repose can open onto big, hidden vistas. I look forward to reading Andrew, so to speak, by the fire and off the clock.

(Photo by Judit Klein)