Could The Dish Continue Without Me?

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 30 2015 @ 2:11pm

current-staff

Many, many readers have asked that core question since Wednesday’s post:

You’re just done? Everyone? Chris and Patrick and the gang aren’t holding down the domain? We could learn to love them; they seem like smart, dedicated folks. They lack your endearingly fallible, sometimes hysterical, always entertaining voice, but give them a shot, a trial run, something.

Another is more direct:

Please keep the Dish going without you. I’m in tears over the possibility of its ending. You’ve got the team, don’t you? PLEASE find a way!

Another:

You don’t owe me or other subscribers anything; you owe something to the creation that is the Dish. Keep it alive and figure out a sane way to remain involved. The community is ready to make this work.

Another notes:

Andrew, I remember you writing that you hoped that the Dish could continue and grow even if you moved on.  I truly believe it could, can and will. Please let it try. It’s too important now. It’s not just about you and your blogging; it has grown bigger than that. I believe your “baby” can survive with you occasionally helping from afar.

How another reader puts it:

Your writing drew me here. Your team kept me here.

Another makes a compelling case:

Andrew, Chris, and the gang, are you ready for the next asshole who’s going to try to convince you to keep this thing going? Maybe the stress of running a company such as this, and blogging every day, is just too much.  Maybe your staff has already landed new jobs in other places. Maybe The Dish has become a chain around Andrew’s leg. Maybe the blog has to completely die for Andrew to truly break free.

Screw that. Let’s talk about options for keeping The Dish alive and thriving.

There is a problem: Andrew needing to stop blogging (I understand and immensely respect this), and there are various solutions.  Shutting down the blog completely is only one solution. In my selfish opinion, it isn’t the best solution. This blog is an institution. It can very easily live on without Andrew. That isn’t meant as any sort of insult. It is to Andrew’s credit that he has assembled a staff as talented and competent as he has.

Is Andrew the only one who needs to temporarily/permanently cease blogging, or have the majority of you all had enough? Is the grind too much for any normal person? If Andrew needs to stop, but the rest of you have any desire to continue on with this publication, why not make it work?

How about “Andrew Sullivan, Blogger Emeritus”? He can still break free completely. I mean completely. No day-to-day responsibilities. cartoon-patrick-chrisNot even weekly or monthly. Keep the mind on writing essays or books or anything he wants. Chris, Patrick, or Jessie can step up and steer the ship. Or bring someone else in for that role.  Andrew will still own the blog, even in silence, kind of like Forbes or Bloomberg or plenty of other media entities with a founder’s name. Letting this blog die is a colossal waste of influence and talent. And you’re throwing away money that you don’t have to. I really think you can have it all.

What you’ve all built is unprecedented and cannot be replicated. I would give almost anything to have the opportunity that you have. You think you’ve reached the end of the road, but you haven’t. There are still so many possibilities, from content to contributors to engaging readers in creative ways to innovative revenue streams to strides you can and should make on the technical/design side. Don’t go work at other places. Stay here and make this website even better.

With all that said, what are the odds of being convinced to change you mind based on an email from an almost total stranger?  I’m placing in at 1/1000.  I’ll take it.

But another asks a key question:

Are you, or your team, unsure about continued subscriptions in your absence?

Yes, we have wrestled with that uncertainty for a while. One encouraging sign from a reader:

Like so many others, I will miss your voice when it leaves the blog. But if this makes you happy, I’m happy for you. And I will look forward to whatever new form your voice takes from here.

But I was also looking forward to renewing my Dish subscription. I went in for $250 last year and I was thinking $1k this year. I’ll up that to $5k if it will help your team keep the business running, even if there’s no Andrew here anymore. You can count on me to support whatever the next thing is.

Another gobsmacking gesture from a reader:

TL;DR Version: I’m renewing. Have your staff keep The Dish going. I’ll miss you when you quit blogging, but I’m still renewing at the $200/yr level.

This reader’s investment is just as meaningful:

You didn’t need to remove the “subscribe” button. I’m long-term unemployed and keeping a low profile on my “voluntary” payments. But I was going to subscribe once I got a job. Shrug. I decided that hitting the “subscribe” button was the clearest way to vote emphatically for The Dish to continue. You’ve spent 15 years building a community here and I DON’T want to see it go.  And I’ll give you a $20 vote of confidence.

So would this reader:

If all those things you said about us readers are true, then we can handle it. Turn the Dish over to us – we won’t let you down. I’ll even finally subscribe. (Sorry I’ve been an asshole.)

On the other hand, readers also have this sentiment:

If Andrew is not going to blog anymore, I do not want to continue subscribing to the Dish.  How do I opt out of auto-renewal?

Another has already backed out:

I’ve enjoyed the blog. But given changes, I’m canceling. Thanks so much for the good readings.

And another:

Please retire the Dish. I love it, but it needs to be done – hear me out.

Consider the contrasting paths of two other creative geniuses with legacies in defining an unconventional medium: Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts, and Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin & Hobbes. Schulz allowed Peanuts to remain in syndicate after he retired, and the once-lovable icon of schlubbery, Charlie Brown, has degenerated into an overused catch phrase “Good Grief” (interestingly, in the original Peanuts Christmas Special, it’s Linus who says that line). On the other hand, Watterson took C&H with him into retirement, to the initial dismay of both fans and financially-interested parties. But time has vindicated his decision, with C&H still one of the most beloved icons in all of comicdom.

So please take the Dish with you into retirement.

Another sees both sides:

Succession is tricky. For example, Garrison Keillor has tried to leave Prairie Home Companion several times, but inevitably, the enterprise was too personality-driven to survive the transition. He’s still cranking out Saturday evening shows that are widely loved, but nothing fresh has happened at PHC for years.  There’s such a thing as loving something to death, and I’m glad that Andrew is bright and brave enough to back away before that happens to you or to us.

In the early days when Andrew took breaks, readers snarked unmercifully at the stand-ins until he returned.  That doesn’t seem to happen so often now; the quality and the accent doesn’t change as noticeably as it did on earlier Andrew holidays.  And yet … it’s hard to imagine the Dish without a big personality at its center.

So, it will be a tough transition.  But if there’s a critical mass of the staff that’s up for it, turn the fucking pay-meter back on and start a renewal drive.  You can keep me on auto-renew.  And Andrew, I look forward to seeing that new book!  Whatever you decide.

I’m a little emotionally drained right now, I have to say. Last night, I could barely sleep. I’m going to write about the amazing people I’ve worked with here at the Dish in the coming week. And our readers are absolutely right. This blog is a collective project, and has been for a very long while. Jessie, Chris and Patrick were my first three interns and they are now our top three editors, seven years later. They created the Dish in its current formulation. So did Chas, a fireball of love and energy. The Dish would be very different without Matt’s attention to the life of the soul as well as the mind; and has been immeasurably leavened by Alice’s inspired poetry selection. Jonah is simply a rock-star of intellectual fearlessness.

These people have become my family; in fact, we are family to each other. To have lived and breathed and worked and created this elixir together has been one of the greatest gifts I have ever been given. And the family goes back to all the former interns and staffers, to our beloved Zoe, Doug, Brian, Conor, Katie and Tracy and Zack and Gwynn and Maisie and Phoebe. And, of course, it also extends to Robert Cameron, who created this blog with me in 2000, designed it, worked tirelessly for it, and built the foundation on which all this has been constructed. If you think this blog is my creation, you could not be more wrong. This is their creation as well.

And, of course, it is also yours. We’ve all been deeply moved by the wave of protest that this community not simply be disbanded. There’s an intimacy to this conversation that makes this feel less like a business decision and more like a terrible family break-up. I understand all that. I’m deeply torn about it. It takes time to process.

So give us a little space to absorb this week. As of tomorrow, we’re going back to regular blogging. And let us know if you would be prepared to give the team a chance to figure this out or if you think it’s best to leave the Dish as a 15-year adventure that helped shape the Internet conversation.

This may be the denial part of grief. Or it could be something else.

See you in the morning.

(Top photo: Current staffers after an editorial meeting last month. Left to right, that’s Jonah (international editor), Matt (literary editor), some clapped-out old bear, Chris (editor and co-owner, in charge of the in-tray and Dishness), Patrick (editor and co-owner, in charge of Dish Prep and the budget), Jessie (editor, in charge of the weekend), and Chas (managing editor, aka Special Teams). In that photo were about to head to a bar to join poetry editor Alice, former staffers Tracy and Brian, and former interns Phoebe, Brendan, Doug, Gwynn, and Katie for a Dish holiday party. Zoe lives in Toronto now, so she couldn’t make it, and former staffer Conor and former interns Maisie and Zack live in DC. But here’s a composite of everyone, past and present:

dishies

First column: Matt Sitman, Tracy Walsh, Alice Quinn, a small cartoon of Jessie Roberts (long story), Maisie Allison, Brendan James, and Dusty the Dish mascot.  Second column: Patrick Appel, Jonah Shepp, Chas Danner, Zack Beauchamp, Doug Allen, and Phoebe Maltz Bovy. Third column: Chris Bodenner, Katie Zavadski, Brian Senecal, Gwynn Guilford, Zoe Di Novi, and Conor Friedersdorf.