I’m happy for Andrew Sullivan. I really am.
I take him at his word that there was something about being part of a larger site, first Time, then at The Atlantic and then The Daily Beast that was in some ways holding him back, keeping his work from achieving all he imagined it can be. So he announced today that he’s going solo. And certainly the web affords him the freedom to go and set-up whatever (free-mium? low-cost pay-hedge? pay-what-you-want-Radiohedge?) model that makes him feel entirely in-control and still provide himself and his staff with a decent living. I believe in encouraging a culture in which content is valued and that value is monetized and transmitted to the creators of said content. As he writes:
The only completely clear and transparent way to do this, we concluded, was to become totally independent of other media entities and rely entirely on you for our salaries, health insurance, and legal, technological and accounting expenses.
And Andrew and his happy crew may even make a decent living doing it his way. We’ll know better a year from now.
The thing that I find more worrisome about The Dish’s move is that while it may make Andrew Sullivan richer, it will make the internet, and possibly even political discourse, poorer. I don’t say that because I agree with Andrew Sullivan’s politics. In fact, I disagree, in places quite vehemently, with some of his views and ideas. That said, I can recognize that his voice has brought value to the different debates he has engaged in over the past number of years — even if that value was in prompting those who disagreed with him to be more eloquent and vocal in their arguments with him. I worry that once he goes behind his gossamer not-a-pay-wall-but-still-you-gotta-pay-something-at-some-point mechitzah, the necessity of rebutting or supporting whatever he’s saying somehow becomes less crucial.
Remember when it seemed like every week people were writing and talking about some batshit insane thing Glenn Beck was saying on FoxNews. Now Glenn Beck is behind a paywall and apparently doing quite well for himself, thankyouverymuch. But when was the last time you heard about some batshit insane thing he said? Do you think he just stopped making batshit insane statements? Or do you think that now the only people who listen to his batshit insanity are people predisposed to agree with said batshittery? And perhaps some people who lovelovelove to disagree with Glenn subscribe just because that’s how they get their jollies. But most of the rest of us have moved on.
I’m not saying that will happen to Andrew Sullivan. He and Glenn Beck are imperfect analogies, and the nature of what Andrew does and the way he does it depends much more on interaction with the real world — through aggregation and response to other content on the web. But is Andrew Sullivan’s perspective so unique that it can continue to have an impact beyond those who are willing to subscribe? We’ll have to wait to find out.
It is either truly a new model for opinion journalism, or a detour that The Dish will take on its way to whatever “next” harbor it can truly feel comfortable in.