Interesting developments over at The Dish:
And so, as we contemplated the end of our contract with the Beast at the end of 2012, we faced a decision. As usual, we sought your input and the blogosphere’s – hence the not-terribly subtle thread that explored whether online readers will ever pay for content, and how. The answer is: no one really knows. But as we debated and discussed that unknowable future, we felt more and more that getting readers to pay a small amount for content was the only truly solid future for online journalism. And since the Dish has, from its beginnings, attempted to pioneer exactly such a solid future for web journalism, we also felt we almost had a duty to try and see if we could help break some new ground.
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.
I’ve just subscribed to it. We are in the same business, and I know particularly well how much hard work it takes to keep a lively blog going. And it’s worth it to me to support what they do. Longtime readers know that Andrew and I have argued and fallen out over various issues over the years, and have agreed on some of them as well. The thing about Andrew’s blog is that even when it drives me crazy, I keep reading it. I have to. I want to. He and his team are scooping up stories and information that means something to me. I don’t care about pot, and I don’t care about Obama love, and I don’t care about the evolution of gay culture — three of Sully’s big themes. I think Sully is often unfair to his enemies, especially the Pope.
What I do care about is the broader cultural coverage the Dish team aggregates, which has for years given me lots to think about, and, of course, to blog about. And what I do care about is reading opinion journalism that engages me and makes me argue with it, even when it ticks me off. I love The Dish sometimes, I hate it other times, but above all, I read it, several times a day. With so many sites out there clamoring for one’s attention, that’s quite an accomplishment. Therefore, I’m happy to support them financially, and to invest in a journalism model that means something to me personally. I encourage you to do the same. If an unrepentant Christianist (heh) theocon like me can find enough good stuff in Team Sully’s extraordinary daily output to justify the cost of a subscription, I bet you can too. I added a small tip to my subscription, as a thank-you for all the good reading over the years.
An essential point to keep in mind in all this shuffling is that we need to keep the work of journalism distinct from the specific mediums of magazines and daily newspapers. Their work has become less essential to some degree. Obviously you don’t go to either of those mediums for timeliness, and you don’t often go to a daily newspaper for engaging, long-form content. (Which is one reason I’m far more pessimistic about the future of daily newspapers than I am about the future of magazines.) However, the broader story-telling and reporting work of the journalist is as needed as ever. So we need to be clear that this moment in the publishing industry isn’t a funeral dirge, but simply an interlude. Journalism and writing more broadly will adapt to the new mediums of today just as they adapted to the printing press 500 years ago.
What excites me about Sully’s move is that this could do for blogging what the NYT‘s move to a paywall did for newspapers: It made it OK for blogs to start charging. As someone who has never earned an above-poverty level income as an adult, I’ve benefited enormously from being able to read phenomenal journalists like Sullivan, Dreher, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ross Douthat, and David Brooks for free. After all, the flip side to widely-available free writing online is that my generation has been able to compete in an extremely egalitarian market. Ezra Klein, the premier journalist-wonk in DC, got his start as a blogger. Other journalists, like Sullivan and Dreher, have made their name just as much (if not more) through their blogs as through their more traditional journalistic work. So the free content free-for-all has had its perks. But I’m glad to see Sullivan initiating this new step for bloggers. The downside to this is that it will be harder ten years from now for a person like myself to access as much content online. But the upside is, I hope, an infusion of cash into the blogosphere that allows talented writers to dedicate more time to work they’ve traditionally done for free. (Yglesias saw this one coming, it’s worth noting.)
(It will also be interesting to see what effect this monetization of blogs has on blogs that do lots of linking to outside content – so the Dish starts charging… well, that’s fine. But what happens when all the blogs and magazines he links to start doing the same? One of the unique things with blogging is that the sort of thing it does best – high volume posting that is extremely integrated into the rest of the blogosphere through linking to other pieces – only works when you have tons of free content. But if you have to pay a subscription for every magazine or blog… well, that model isn’t looking so viable anymore.) More to come.