Blogging Does Have Rules
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: Should there be journalistic standards for bloggers?
Andrew Sullivan: Well they can’t be held to anything, that’s the thing. It’s like the United Nations, I mean; you don’t have the power to coerce anybody to do anything and in my view, nor should you, online. There are things called, I mean, standards evolve through experimentation. My own view is simply that there are some very basic rules; very simple rules that apply to all writing in a way, which is: don’t lie; if you’re wrong, correct; do not misrepresent; and try and keep oneself intellectually honest—which means, as a writer, the very difficult task in public of admitting you were wrong.
I mean, obviously, one should try as much as one possibly can not to be wrong, not to get things wrong. I’m actually quite proud and I’m very proud of the fact that The Dish has very rarely made any serious factual errors. We may have made errors of judgment or of opinion and I may have occasionally popped off when I probably should not have done, but even in really, really, really sort of dangerous territory, I don’t think anybody has ever caught me stating something that’s untrue, unless it’s by accident or mistake in which it has been corrected. So, look that is, that’s the only standing up you have. There is no way to police that, nor should there be except by readers figuring out who’s honest and who isn’t.
That’s how reputations emerge. The New York Times had not become The New York Times overnight. It had to earn its reputation day-by-day. And I think you earn your reputation for honesty and integrity literally hour-by-hour, and taste for that matter.
As for taste... what I love about the Internet and what I try to do on the issues is insist upon the ability to have bad taste if one wants. I mean, The Dish is a rare blog inasmuch as it will have discussions with Rooty and Oakeshott and Leo Strauss along with you know, the... that great TheyRapeYourKids Mashup, and Auto-Tuning.
But I actually think that that’s the world most grown up intelligent people of my generation belong. And we see a contradiction between "South Park" clips and discussions of theodicy.
I don’t believe in those... I don’t believe in those categories, never have. I’m a high/low kind of guy. And I also believe that the English language is robust enough to use good ole Anglo-Saxon words instead of these ridiculous circumlocutions you’ll find in established, old-fashioned journalism. So I still cherish the fact that even in The Atlantic Monthly, I think sometimes the consternation of some people, you know, I can say the word "fuck" and they can’t stop me. And I still have enough of an adolescent streak to be kind of happy about it. That’s why I get along so well with the "South Park" dudes because I think they have... they get a thrill out of that too. Pushing, pushing, pushing the envelope of what we can say and what we’re allowed to talk about.
Recorded on October 12, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller
There aren’t set standards for bloggers the way that there are for print journalists, but there are still some rules that everyone should follow: "Don’t lie, and if you’re wrong, correct."
We are constantly trying to force the world to look like us — we need to move on.
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