The blogosphere was in a state of shock last night as pioneer blogger Andrew Sullivan, almost completely out of the blue declared that he would be retiring from blogging. He wrote on the Dish:
I am saturated in digital life and I want to return to the actual world again. 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.
Sullivan started blogging back in late 2000 and has been a pioneer online in many ways. He was the first serious writer to take up writing on the internet during a time when there was no real business model or notion that it could turn into a proper profession. Sullivan’s informal style was instrumental in shaping writing online, and it is unlikely that what we know as the media today would look anything like it does without his influence. Every newspaper online has a blog section, and those blog sections are only credible because of Sullivan who made them credible.
Sullivan also took the immensely brave step of pulling his blog off The Daily Beast (where he was no doubt receiving a generous paycheck from Tina Brown), and decided to go it alone in 2013. He left his professional success in the hands of his readers and began charging for subscription – a move virtually without precedent for an independent blog. Our own success with the subscription model here at the Banter is almost entirely due to Sullivan paving the way. He recognized early on that an ad model online was not sustainable if you didn’t want to turn into clickbait garbage generators like Buzzfeed or Upworthy. Sullivan wanted to create a quality magazine and asked his readers to pay for it (a fairly straight forward business in every other industry other than the media apparently!).
In virtually every sense of the word, Sullivan’s experiment was a success. He raised almost $1 million in his first year, and brought in over 30,000 paying subscribers. It is difficult to stress how impressive this is (take it from us), and should independent media survive over the next 10 years, Sullivan should take a huge amount of credit for it. He truly has been an inspiration for anyone committed to not selling their souls for clicks, and hopefully the next generation of indies can take over where he left off.
Blogging kudos aside, Sullivan’s political writing will be sorely missed too. Once an insufferable Republican and supporter of all things war, Sullivan evolved in front of his audience’s eyes into a smart, pragmatic liberal. He wrote yesterday:
It’s been a strange relationship, hasn’t it? Some of you – the original white-on-navy ones – went through the 2000 election and recount with me, when I had to explain the word “blog” to anyone I met; we experienced 9/11 together in real time – and all the fraught months and years after; and then the Iraq War; and the gay marriage struggles of the last fifteen historic years. We endured the Bush re-election together and then championed – before almost anyone else – the Obama candidacy together. Remember that first night of those Iowa caucuses? Remember the titanic fight with the Clintons? And then the entire arc of the Obama presidency.
Throughout those years Sullivan persistently challenged others about their opinions, but most importantly held himself up to scrutiny and questioned his own belief system at every turn. Having cheerlead the war in Iraq and done his best to destroy intellectual arguments for socialized medical care, Sullivan made quite the about turn and became an ardent supporter of Obama and, for lack of a better word, sanity. Sure he could be an ass (anyone remember his Trig Palin conspiracy theories?), but then the rest of his writing made up for it.
He changed blogging, changed his politics and will hopefully change his mind about this too.
Adios Andrew. And thanks.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.