Dishing with Andrew Sullivan: A Blogging Pioneer on the Future of Journalism

Article excerpt


KSR: The political influence of blogs is on the decline right now. How do you respond to that?

SULLIVAN: I don't really know, because, to be honest with you, I don't really think about that when I'm doing what I'm doing. ... As a writer, I've always just written what I write and never worried about who it will influence; in fact, I've always been slightly terrified it might influence somebody because I don't really write in order to exercise power. I write to make myself feel better and to try and get at the truth.... I don't write to influence anybody, and I think that I've succeeded in that regard.... What I can tell you is that our growth in readership is continuing; we're up 20 percent over last year. We're at 1.4 million people, which blows my mind.

I do think that some of the things that have resonated online--the scandals, the moments, the YouTubes--well, twenty years ago, [former Republican presidential candidate] Herman Cain's answer on Libya would first of all not be televised and second would not have been disseminated within minutes and be available for people to look at, so I disagree in that sense. Blogs play an important role; they're a huge portal for a lot of people on the Web.

KSR: When I think about the 2008 election cycle, I think about you driving so much of the conversation about Sarah Palin. And I don't necessarily see anyone in the blogosphere today doing what you were doing then.

SULLIVAN: I would like to think that not just [about] Palin, but [Barack] Obama [as well].... The October 2007 cover story with the Atlantic and then my basic argument in favor of Obama ... that's where we got this huge boost in readership. [Obama adviser David] Axelrod actually said that we were critical to Obama's breakthrough against [then Senator Hillary] Clinton. So that's a lot of influence, I guess, but I don't think about that. And I think that keeping the pressure up on Palin, getting right in her face with that whole thing ... now, the reason I did that is because there was no vetting, and we had two months and she could be vice president. That's very rare. I eventually found out, via various sources, that she read it every day just as you were reading it, and my own suspicion is that she's not running because she knows there is more shit out there she does not want to handle and couldn't handle, so finally she's acting rationally.

But, this year ... you may well be right. I think [this] is a slightly different and disparate period. I think we're not involved in this sudden, amazing movement with Obama. Also, blogs have been so co-opted by the mainstream media that you think that blogs themselves are not so influential. But if you look at Nate Silver, if you look at Greg Sargent, there are a lot of embedded bloggers now. And I'm, of course, within the Daily Beast umbrella, even though my own blog is its own sort of fiefdom. So it may be an aspect of blogs being more integrated into the general media, which makes them seem less influential because they've fused.

And I think the mainstream media, having observed the '08 cycle, said, "shit, well, the blogs drove the story, which is our job, so one way we'll reclaim that is to acquire them." ... When we did the Iran stuff, which I think was intensely influential, not just in what we were doing in terms of the subject matter but also the way we did it--the innovation of a live blog of a revolution with video, tweets, and really being on the ground there--we were just making it all up as we went along. We just realized that we had this tool that we can innovate in a minute, and we could try shit. Because there was nobody above us saying, "Oh don't do that; let's get it past this editor and that editor ..." Instead, I was just like, "fuck it, let's do it, let's try it out," and [we] did that. Three of us on twelve-hour shifts through the day and night because in Tehran we didn't want to miss what was happening the next day. …