Andrew Sullivan, who helped popularize blogging, announced at least a temporary hiatus from his long-running site, the Dish, today, in a move that set off the latest iteration in a series of conversations about the future and possible death of the blogosphere.
“I am saturated in digital life and I want to return to the actual world again,” he explained in a farewell-for-now post. “I’m a human being before I am a writer; and a writer before I am a blogger, and although it’s been a joy and a privilege to have helped pioneer a genuinely new form of writing, I yearn for other, older forms. I want to read again, slowly, carefully. I want to absorb a difficult book and walk around in my own thoughts with it for a while. I want to have an idea and let it slowly take shape, rather than be instantly blogged. I want to write long essays that can answer more deeply and subtly the many questions that the Dish years have presented to me. I want to write a book.”
I tend to agree with Chris Cillizza that publishing as a platform absolutely isn’t dead. I also think blogging is far from over as means for new writers to workshop their ideas and to prove they have the sheer cussedness to keep up with the pace required of contemporary journalists. Blogging’s how I’ve gotten to know folks like Stacia Brown, who frequently guests for me here, and Gene Demby, who now heads up NPR’s Code Switch blog.
But I do think that the relationship between blogging and legacy media has changed, and has changed how some bloggers understand their jobs. As someone who had both embedded his blog in a number of serious mainstream media institutions and kept up an obsessive pace, a conversational style and an assumption of a certain kind of relationship with his readers, Sullivan stands at an interesting intersection of a number of these currents, and it’s worth noting the eddies he leaves in his wake.
Part of what’s interesting about Sullivan’s blogging trajectory is the ways in which he traveled in the opposite direction from so many of his imitators. The Daily Dish started independently*, then moved to Time, then moved to the Atlantic and finally to the Daily Beast, before Sullivan took it independent, albeit with the cushion of a loyal subscriber base who let him maintain the site as real company with employees and revenue, rather than as the outpost of a lone obsessive with a WordPress account.
Far more often, the journey is from solo operator to part of a larger institution. Matt Yglesias started as a blogger before joining the American Prospect, and moving from there to the Atlantic, ThinkProgress (where we were colleagues) and subsequently for Slate. Ezra Klein wrote for group blogs, then for the American Prospect (where he hosted me as a guest-blogger) and then here to The Post. Nate Silver went from Daily Kos, to his own FiveThirtyEight site which he subsequently took to the New York Times.
Notably, when Yglesias, Klein and Silver decided to leave the establishment outlets and strike out on their own, they founded new ventures that were offshoots of other large enterprises. Yglesias and Klein, along with Post veteran Melissa Bell, founded Vox as the general interest site of Vox Media, which was already operating a number of other properties. Silver took his talents to ESPN, which had already started up the Bill Simmons-branded Grantland, and now is working on another publication to be run by Jason Whitlock.
Looking at these changes, part of what stood out to me is how much the people who helped me when I was starting out as a blogger (with the possible exception of Yglesias) have changed the way they work on the Internet. Klein seems to be posting roughly once a day, which makes sense, given that he’s now helping to run a large publication. Ta-Nehisi Coates, who pulled off what once seemed to be the blogging Holy Grail by creating a consistently great comments section, now posts every 10 days or every other week while he works on longer pieces for the Atlantic.
The way I write has changed, too. I post somewhat less often than I used to. And while the subjects I choose to write about tend to be a way for me to workshop ongoing intellectual and critical concerns, I no longer write with the expectation that you all are going to read every post and pick up on every twist and turn in my thinking. Instead, each piece feels like it has to stand alone, with a thesis, supporting paragraphs and a clear conclusion.
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.
* I had totally forgotten that the Dish started independently and then moved to Time. Thanks to a sharp-eyed reader, I’ve corrected that, but I don’t think it entirely changes the narrative of Sullivan’s trajectory from establishment journalist to independent operator.