Sullivan's Dish is done

I wasn’t sure I wanted to post on Andrew Sullivan’s announced retirement from blogging until it became clear whether the Daily Dish would go on without him. Today the answer came: It won’t. Sullivan this morning announced that Friday will be the Dish’s last day

There’s been a number of encomia to Sullivan and his blog written since last week. His announcement has also elicited critiques and rehashes of previous critiques on his writing career (going back decades) and his editorial decision-making. It’s ground worth covering but also well-covered and won’t get more coverage in this post – though there may be some who have a thing or two to say.

I came around to regular reading of Sullivan’s blog about the time he was rethinking his position on the war in Iraq. Hard to say exactly what it was that made his site the first one I checked every day, or the one I soon began to check most often. But I do recall finding his site much less shrill (believe it or not) and somewhat more reasoned than those then breaking through on the left-leaning side of the blogosphere. (I’d count Matthew Yglesias as another who at the time was reliably providing a safe place of sensible commentary.) I liked that he posted on a range of serious matters and a number of others that were less so. I liked how he said what he had to say on same-sex marriage, torture, Abu Ghraib, and Dick Cheney, Michael Moore, and the Clintons. I was willing to give him even more leeway on his obsession with the story of Trig Palin’s birth and the woman who could have been vice president. I thought he captured and in some ways reflected what at the time was being characterized as the Obama phenomenon. I was also interested in his public Catholicism, and in his public hashing out of where his pronouncements and positions might put him in opposition to its tenets or most vocal adherents, or in line with them.

Having by then worked in organizations attempting the move from print to online, I also liked what he was doing with blogging itself. He provided a template for a lot of imitators, for better or worse, and not just in opinion journalism; to some he was a pioneer. He did podcasts (with people like Christian Wiman), he did real-time reader surveys, he had notable guests of whom readers could ask direct questions. His posts about moving from one publisher to another, from one platform to another, and eventually about building his own site and working out a subscription model, gave those thinking of how to improve their own online efforts or somehow make businesses of them something more to think about. And, not to put too fine a point on it, we didn’t mind the referrals to our site from his.

There was a rhythm to the Dish’s daily slate of posts, and there came to be a rhythm to the week. As everywhere, quantity didn’t necessarily beget quality – I could have done without the mental health breaks and beards of the week and a few other things— but Sundays could provide generally satisfying, or at least interesting, reads on religion and philosophy, and I’d come to appreciate these more in the last year or so. Among Sullivan’s loyal daily followers I might be in the minority on this, if his recent post on the topic of Sundays at the Dish is an indicator. But I’m not alone. He highlighted one Sunday reader’s comments:

You create a thoughtful internet – a place where someone might vote for Bush and then vote for Obama, a place where someone might love the Catholic church and be aware of its problems and mistakes, a place where someone might understand that spiritual seeking is an important part of an examined, scientific life. The mere fact alone that you highlight contrarian voices within our institutions creates space for people to change their mind and reconsider, which is so important.

Fun fact: when I started seeing a therapist for OCD related to anxiety about religion, my wife and friends said I had to stop reading Catholic blogs and sites, but they said you could stay! This says a lot about your role in my life (that was five years ago – I’m a lot better now).

I’ll trust that wasn’t a dotCommonweal reader, just as I’ll trust that after closely following Sullivan for the last twelve (of his fifteen or so) years of his blogging, I like others will be able to move on. Paul Elie is among those happy to have Sullivan returning to long-form writing, and that is something, maybe enough to ease the break of a reader’s daily routine. 

Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s editor. Follow him on Twitter.

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