Andrew Sullivan is a conservative political writer and commentator and one of the pioneers of political blog journalism. He was born in England, where he attended Magdalen College, Oxford, but moved to the US in the 1980s to pursue a Masters in Public Administration and a PhD in Political Science at Harvard. He has remained in the US and has focused his writing on American political life.
In 1991 at the age of 27, Sullivan was appointed editor of The New Republic, over which he presided for 250 issues until he resigned in May 1996. Sullivan's tenure at TNR was often turbulent, controversial, and pioneering. The magazine expanded its remit beyond politics to cover such topics as the future of hip-hop, same-sex marriage, and affirmative action in the newsroom. TNR also published the first airing of 'The Bell Curve,' the explosive 1995 book on IQ, and 'No Exit,' an equally controversial essay that was widely credited with helping to torpedo the Clinton administration's plans for universal health coverage. In 1996, Sullivan was named Editor of the Year by Adweek magazine.
Sullivan is openly gay and has been a key figure in the public discourse on such issues as gays in the military and same-sex marriage. His 1993 TNR essay, 'The Politics of Homosexuality,' was credited by the Nation magazine as the most influential article of the decade in gay rights. His 1995 book, 'Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexuality,' was published to positive reviews, became one of the best-selling books on gay rights, and was translated into five languages. He followed it with a reader, 'Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con,' and testified before Congress on the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. His second book, 'Love Undetectable: Notes on Friendship, Sex, and Survival,' was published in 1998 in the United States and Britain. It was a synthesis of three essays on the plague of AIDS, homosexuality and psycho-therapy, and the virtue of friendship. Sullivan tested positive for HIV in 1993, and remains in good health.
In the summer of 2000, Sullivan became one of the first mainstream journalists to experiment with blogging and soon developed a large online readership for his blog The Daily Dish. He has blogged independently and for Time.com, but in February 2007 he moved his blog to The Atlantic Online where he now writes daily.
Question: What advice do you have for aspiring bloggers?
Andrew Sullivan: I do have a couple of rules which is that if it isn’t updated at least twice a day it’s not a blog, it’s a website. So don’t fool yourself that you’re blogging when you’re really just putting stuff up online. And twice a day is sort of, I think, the minimum. I think a blog to live really has to be probably four or five times a day.
We post 250 times a week, which is insane. But what I’ve learned is that the readers treat it like crack. I mean, they will get... they will take as much as you can possibly give them and return infinitely more. And the interaction is the second thing I say. Take your readers as part of your community. This is a dialogue, not a monologue. With any luck the dialogue then becomes a conversation.
No single person knows very much, and what he knows he soon forgets. So the collective consciousness, or collective mind, of the world out there is what... is really what we’re trying to. And, in our case we are trying to get at the truth. We really are. We’re trying to understand what the hell is happening. And that means that I will have a particular line of inquiry, a sort of an angle of entry into that because I’m going to have certain prejudices and thoughts and feelings and judgments and mindset. But the goal is to provoke other stuff too so that we get... we try and get to the core of it, which we try and actually get to what’s actually happening. And I think that’s another thing.
But look, you can blog about your garden and it’s a brilliant blog. I also think the other critical thing, so more than one time a day; more than once a day, enter a dialogue. Thirdly, I really think you have to be yourself. I think this is a medium about personality and voice. It’s about honesty and openness. And people can smell inauthenticity a mile away. And you know, that’s really what Facebook is. You know, at some point now, with social media, everybody has a blog. And what I was doing 10 years ago is now ubiquitous.
At the time, when we first started, no one in the main... none of my peers in journalism could understand why on earth I would stop writing essays for you know, Trans Magazine to do this. And my feeling was, why not. I get to write. Having been an editor of an online... of an opinion magazine, having been a columnist, having done... having written books and knowing through that process every time you had to go some authority figure, you know editor, proprietor, colleagues, blah, blah, blah, publisher, got help with publicists—all that ghastliness. Suddenly, wahoo, I can go right to the reader—forget everything. The only question was whether I can ever make a living at it, and for six years didn’t. I mean, you know, I did it for the hell of it.
And I think sometimes this generation that grew up with this don’t remember, they don’t understand how hard it was for great writers of the past to get their stuff out there. The agents and the publishers and the manuscripts and the desperate attempt to get your reviews published and then they would botch it and cut it in half or rewrite it or wouldn’t publish it for political reasons or... I mean, you have no idea what people went through. And now we’re fine.
Recorded on October 12, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller