Andrew’s Burnt Out? Blogs Are, Too
Take it from me—blogs were great in their day. But now, there are just so many more ways to be an underpaid writer.
So I guess Andrew Sullivan is giving up blogging? As the kids say on the interwebs, tl; dr very closely. Reading Sullivan on not blogging was the first time I’ve read him in a long time. There’s a tree-announcing-it’s-falling quality to the announcement that says more about the form than Sullivan.
He’s a terrific writer; he often says interesting things. It’s just that in the past decade or so, there’s been so much of his writing to wade through. And as I gather from quickly skimming his post, there’s so much more to life! I have been doing those things instead of reading Sullivan’s blog. Instead of reading most blogs, actually. I am excited to read the more substantive stuff he apparently plans on writing, because as a reader I want the writing I read to reflect the value of the time I spend on it.
That’s why I gave up reading blogs.
I gave up writing a blog itself because it made financial sense to do so. I was the “low cost” in professional blogging’s “low cost/high output” formula, and as I was able to charge more for my writing, I was able to do less of it. I don’t know the specifics of Sullivan’s financial situation, but it seems like his choice to continuing blogging for as long as he did was a stylistic choice and not a financial one. Clearly, his choice to stop blogging is a stylistic choice as well. It’s only a stylistic choice.
“Blogger” as an occupation, as a word, never made sense to me. It’s like describing one’s job as a “computer-er” or a “fire-hoser.” A blog is a tool or a medium, it’s not a thing one does. “Blogger” is an ugly, clunky word that gained currency mainly because professional journalists needed a way to differentiate their own more serious work from that of these untrained upstarts—a final act of paternalism from the gate-keeping class. Critics tried to maintain that there was something distinctive about “blogging” that made it different from “reporting,” but the years have broken down whatever point they were trying to make.
Today, it’s hard to believe that serious people held serious panels, dozens of them, debating the difference between “blogging” and “journalism,” an exercise that probably seems as incomprehensibly pointless to the average teenager today as debating the difference between a “computer” and “phone.”
Hold a gun to my head and ask me to define blog and I’d ask you why it matters so goddamn much, but it’s your gun so: A “blog” is a web destination made up of a series of short dispatches, published at least daily, in chronological order. Like any medium, it had characteristics that made it more or less suited to different styles of writing and types of content. Circa 2004, I’d say the most attractive, and revolutionary characteristic was the ability to almost instantaneously publish aesthetically pleasing content with little to no technical background or capital. Blogging’s limitations were those of any digital content at the time: it was only as portable, or as comfortable to read, as the device it appeared on.
But while mainstream publications struggled (and still struggle) with the imperative to keep readers captive, one-man-band bloggers, freed from the need for stickiness, could create whole catalogs of content and generate all the page views they needed—one 400-word post at a time. It wasn’t long before publishers besides Nick Denton realized how lucrative it could be to pay hungry writers of almost nothing to generate lots. The mainstream blog was born of economics more than trendiness, and as long as there are writers willing to work for nothing, there will be blogs.
But today, writers who are willing to write for nothing, or for cheap, don’t have to blog. They can monetize their own movies and podcasts, Kickstart novels, find sponsors for their Tweets.
Today, the advantages and limitations that shaped blog writing into an even notionally recognizably form don’t exist. Blogging was once the fastest form of one-to-many publishing available; today, there’s a kaleidoscope of options: Facebook (which in the early days of blogging was still limited to people will specific .edu addresses), Instagram, Vine, Twitter, Snapchat, things the kids are using that I haven’t heard of yet.
Blogging once rewarded writers who could make their point quickly and then move on. Following a long argument or engaging in detailed debate or spinning a complicated narrative required staring at a glaring screen anchored to cumbersome computer. Better displays, better web design, and tablet computing have untethered online content and produced a thriving niche market for long-form literary journalism.
Ten years ago, those who sought one-to-many platforms “blogged” because it was all they really could do. It was a specific form only because of specific circumstances. To cling to it is an affectation of sorts, a refusal of the choices now available. It is to continue use a Model T and to think of your trips as “Model-T-ing” when there is a Porsche in the garage and, no matter what kind of vehicle, everyone else just thinks of it as “driving.”
The car analogy is not perfect, if only because the barrier to entry for elegant, one-to-many publishing—the price of a Porsche—is still so incredibly low. But the stubborn hobbyist parallel does get at how little one is giving up when you put away your antique jalopy; in a more versatile vehicle, you can still get to all the places you once did and you can go further.
Happy travels, Andrew. Hope our paths cross again soon.