Blogging Toward a New Golden Age
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: Can blogging really lead to a new “Golden Age of Journalism”?
Andrew Sullivan: Well I think that it sort of can. I don’t know whether it will, and I’m not naive enough to believe that we will not need I think publicly funded probably, or privately funded institutes for reporters, real reporters, to go and do the work that is necessary. Like ProPublica, for example. Because important stories and really hard stories require months of work, they’re really like developing sometimes experimental drugs. You have to work hard on the story and it may not in the end come to anything. But if we go to, for example, get to the bottom of questions like Guantanamo Bay or inside the intelligence apparatus, we’re gonna need reporters full time with the time and space to really do that. So I don’t think that... I think even when I said that I always prefaced it and qualified it with that. I just don’t think that the formula of doing a newspaper, where you can bundle it with crossword puzzles and advertising and classifieds in which the reader—well to be honest, a lot of the readers never actually read a lot of those foreign news anyway—but there was an economic model of bundling it in that fashion. That’s clearly over. I mean if it’s not over, it’s going to be over. I don’t think there’s any question about that, and it’s probably going to happen more quickly than most of these people realize.
But, therefore, however, readers in general don’t get up in the morning and say, “I’d like to read 4,000 words about why this particular detainee was mistreated or what happened or whether there is a legal basis for, let’s say, targeting for killing Anwar Al Avlaki, they want some entryway into that. They need a narrative; they need a bundling that is not a newspaper. And in my view, the Internet being a very peer-to-peer operation, and a very human operation, the role of the individual writer in making sense of that, and it reducing people to that, and in being a hub for the relaying of that—which is really what editing and writing is sort of about anyway; it’s finding a way to engage readers into stuff that can be kind of boring if presented into drier fashion.
That is important. And then to have a really honest and open, interesting real-time discussion about it is, I think, is amazing. I think the last couple of weeks, Glenn Greenwald and I and Scott Horton and various other characters have engaged in what is a very... was a very difficult and sometimes heated, but nonetheless civil dialogue about exactly some of these issues. And I think that process is actually better than any single article because I think that it also treats readers as participants in that conversation.
Now of course, you’re also going to get—because we’re all human beings—shrieking propaganda sites and ghastly attempts to propagandize the news, or to polemicize it, or turn it into partisan digest. All of that’s going to happen too. But I’m a big believer that if you... if you really create a space, a line for what people will eventually tell and smell, as it were, is honest dialogue, then if you build that they will come.
Recorded on October 12, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller
Blogs allow writers to have an open and honest discussion in real-time. This is better than a single article because it treats the readers as participants in the conversation.
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