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Alas for the Broken Dish

It turns out that this Friday will be the last day for The Dish, Andrew Sullivan’s great blog. In a new letter to readers [1], Andrew says that he and his co-owners, Patrick Appel and Chris Bodenner, can’t figure out a way to make the Dish continue without Andrew’s participation. Excerpt:

We feel we’ve left behind a model of what an online community can truly be, what a site uncontaminated with p.r. can achieve, and how it’s possible for less than ten people to corral a million people a month and 30,000 paying subscribers into a conversation without end.

But in this very post, he admits that their model was unsustainable. He says all of them are burned out. Even if the rest of them weren’t, the loss of Andrew to the site says that this was not so much a new media venture as a blog that people were willing to pay to read (N.B., I am a charter subscriber to the blog). I certainly appreciate that Andrew’s health has suffered from living as intensely a digital life as he has done, but I don’t really understand why, instead of quitting, he couldn’t have scaled back on everybody’s work. If the Dish staff only produced half as many posts a day as they do now, they would still be doing a hell of a lot of work, and good work, too.

Why not try scaling back the prodigious output? Why not take a few ads? Was there just not enough money in this model, for all the work that it required? Did Andrew just get bored? Why not lay off staff before closing up shop, and try to make it work with a reduced schedule? This update leaves more more confused than I’ve been since the announcement. Something doesn’t seem right.

The Dish cost $20 per year to subscribe to. With 30,000 subscribers, that means gross revenue of $600,000. Whatever the net revenue was, that’s not much money when you divide it among a staff of 10, especially considering that Andrew must have (rightly) taken more than ten percent of the net. Maybe it just wasn’t worth all that work for so little financial return. There’s no shame in that. They tried to do something new, and it failed. Three cheers to them for effort. They really did accomplish something great — but as someone whose own career future had more than a little bit to do with the success or failure of The Dish, I can’t afford to let myself get misty-eyed about the hard lessons here.

What lessons might the rest of us learn from the Dish’s failure? Off the top of my head:

1. It seems to me that they were overstaffed. Did they really need ten people to put out the blog, great as it was?

2. Do not make your media property dependent on one man’s personality, or on one man, period. (See Noah Millman’s words below.)

3. Blogging exacts a serious physical toll on the blogger. I have no trouble believing that Andrew burned out, though I am jealous that he had a big staff and the ability to take long vacations without his blog suffering a falloff in readership. When you have a big readership — as this blog does, though not Sully-big — you feel a responsibility to keep giving readers what they want, but you also get some kind of charge from it. I can never turn it off. My wife once poked fun at me, saying, “You have no unblogged thoughts.” That’s not true, of course, but her broader point stands: it’s very hard to disconnect from digital life. I am constantly in react mode. I only create about one blog post for every ten ideas I have each day. Blogging rewards instant reaction, which means it’s hard to be thoughtful. It’s hard to convey how discouraging it is to put hours into a thoughtful post, and get only 20 comments on it, but to just toss up a shallow Dreherbait post about a hot topic, and watch the comments thread sprawl past 200. After a while, you get worn out with that. Lesson being, blogging is a form of journalism that is hard to sustain.

4. It is non-viable to have a blog based on subscriptions alone. It would have been interesting to see if Andrew could have made it on a subscriptions-alone blog that he owned and operated only on his own, or with one other person to act as an editor and webmaster. He would have had a dramatic falling-off of subscriptions, because the variety of posts would have been far less, but he might have been able to make it. Still, it would have been close. If someone as popular as Andrew Sullivan can’t do it on his own, then who can? A blog has to be attached to an institution or larger media company.

Here’s an alternate theory of Andrew’s End, one floated by a friend of mine: Andrew got bored with blogging because he won. That is, with the exception of fighting torture, the things that matter the most to him are now part of the cultural mainstream, in no small part because of what he did (you can blame him or credit him, but you can’t deny his influence). Gay marriage is finally more popular than unpopular, and will almost certainly be the law of the land after SCOTUS rules this summer. Marijuana is becoming ever more legal, and is thoroughly mainstream. Pornography is also mainstream. Barack Obama was elected, then re-elected. The Catholic Church has a (relatively) liberal pope, one who was named Person of the Year by the gay magazine The Advocate.  

What else did Andrew Sullivan have to conquer?

I’ll end by pointing you to my colleague Noah Millman’s observations from last week about the end of The Dish [2], which he sees as extremely bad for professional bloggers. Excerpt:

 There just aren’t very many people like Sullivan in the world, who combine his speed as a writer, his breadth of taste, his skills as an editor, his manic energy, his head for the business side – it’s just a huge conglomeration of valuable traits. And he didn’t institutionalize them the way Steve Jobs or Walt Disney or Harold Ross did in their own various ways. Even though Andrew Sullivan did only a small fraction of the writing or the curating of the Daily Dish, without him blogging full time, apparently, there is no Dish.

The only thing I quibble with here is that it’s an “insane” demand to post a minimum of three times daily. It is if you’re trying to do another job, I suppose. But Andrew had no other job, and he wasn’t writing books on the side. Maybe I have a completely unrealistic idea of what is sane when it comes to this stuff, because the only time I stop writing is when I sleep. Even when I’m away from the keyboard, I’m still writing.

UPDATE: A reader comments:

It’s kind of rough for you to say The Dish failed. Especially after Andrew promoted your work.

Well, let me clarify. The Dish succeeded at being provocative, thoughtful, infuriating, and endlessly interesting. It burned brightly, but it burned out, because Andrew burned out. I deeply regret this, not only as a Dish subscriber and a friend of Andrew’s, but as someone who labors in the same professional vineyard, though at a lower level. Andrew’s all-too-human failure to keep up that pace — something Your Stress-Induced Chronic Mono Working Boy understands — meant the death of the Dish. I would have re-upped my subscription had it just been Bodenner and Appel running it, because I love those guys’ curatorial eyes.

When I say The Dish failed, I don’t mean it failed editorially; I mean it failed as a business model. And as Noah Millman says, that’s bad news for people like me.

33 Comments (Open | Close)

33 Comments To "Alas for the Broken Dish"

#1 Comment By Sam M On February 4, 2015 @ 4:08 pm

“4. It is non-viable to have a blog based on subscriptions alone.”

Well, it was also virtually impossible to have a magazine or newspaper survive that way, too.

#2 Comment By Venice On February 4, 2015 @ 4:28 pm

I’m really going to miss the Dish. It was such a great way to keep up with the internet without having to read everything. I don’t think there’s anything else like it.
Like many other readers, I found this blog through Sullivan’s. Though I’ve grown to appreciate Rod more, I’ve always enjoyed both blogs.
He’ll be missed for sure.

#3 Comment By Neil On February 4, 2015 @ 4:45 pm

I think the prospect of spending the next 10 years blogging about Hillary and Bill Clinton is what is making Andrew ill.

#4 Comment By todd w On February 4, 2015 @ 4:56 pm

For me Sullivan’s blog went from must-read to basically unreadable when his voice got diluted by those of a bunch of uninteresting kid staffers.

Which brings me to point 2: he had WAYYY TOO MANY staffers. 10 people is three times too many. He replicated the overstaffing that characterized the legacy media during its late, decadent phase.

#5 Comment By Jeff R. On February 4, 2015 @ 5:14 pm

It seems to me that they were overstaffed. Did they really need ten people to put out the blog, great as it was?

Yeah, for example, did they really need a poetry editor? Didn’t they run like two poems a week?

Not sure you’re right about the revenue part, though. I thought Sullivan said in his retirement announcement that they had revenues in excess of a million dollars. Maybe that was when they first started out and things had fallen off a bit or something.

#6 Comment By Turmarion On February 4, 2015 @ 5:20 pm

I suspect 1 is true and false. Probably overstaffed in terms of the bottom line–salaries, benefits, and such. Probably not for the amount of work done. If you count research, consumption of media and putting them in context, finding photos, etc., etc. etc. it seems that even with a staff of ten, you’d be online almost all day, every day.

Even on my teeny little blog there have been days that I’ve spent half the day indexing posts so that visitors can easily find articles–but that’s something you don’t really see on the finished product. If you see twenty posts a day, you say, “Wow!” The index, though, is the index, even though it might have taken the same amount of time to put together as writing twenty posts.

3: Definitely.

4: I’d say that’s true. People are willing to pay for Netflix or Amazon Prime because those are more efficient ways to watch movies than cable or satellite, and you can see what you want. I think people will also make periodic donations–to TAC, for example–to help keep things going. However, for me at least, I’m very slow to subscribe to anything (beyond Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime) online. There’s very little paid content that I am so wed to that I’m willing to make an ongoing commitment to pay for it.

Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon come to a total of about $30 a month, when you work it out. That’s about what cable would have cost thirty years ago. It’s tempting to subscribe to something that’s just $20/year, but there’s just so much. I’ve long been tempted to subscribe to Scribid, because there is a lot of stuff there I’d like to download. $30 a year isn’t that much; but 30 here, 20 there, and pretty soon it’s unsustainable.

I don’t actually know anyone off the top of my head who subscribes to much of anything online except for Hulu, Netflix, or Amazon. There’s enough news out there, real and bogus (and most don’t bother to filter out the bogus) that most people don’t consider it in their interest to subscribe to a newspaper, newsmagazine, or a blog. How any of that stuff will survive in the long term is anyone’s guess.

Anyway, it is a shame to see The Dish go.

#7 Comment By Mister Man On February 4, 2015 @ 5:24 pm

Thank you for all your hard work, Rod. I really appreciate it.

I don’t say it enough.

#8 Comment By The Wet One On February 4, 2015 @ 5:31 pm

“and get only 20 comments on it, but to just toss up a shallow Dreherbait post about a hot topic, and watch the comments thread sprawl past 200.”


I knew you lobbed grenades at us in the crowd now and again. And here’s the proof!

I kid! I kid!


Heh. Don’t worry. I understand the desire and probably the need to do so from time to time. Plus, let’s face it, it’s fun!

As for pornography being as a result of Andrew Sullivan? Err, what? Porn became mainstream pretty much duringt the Clinton era. There was a huge concern that when Bush came in and Ashcroft was Attorney General, the crackdown on porn would begin. It didn’t materialize (yeah, I travelled in that world at that time). That was probably the last chance that existed to dam up porn. After that, with the continued development of the ‘Net, all was lost. The attempt to dam it up wasn’t even made.

All through that time I don’t really recall Sully being that influential in the discussion of this topic. Maybe I’m wrong. Sure it’s something Sully is positive on, but I think Jenna Jameson did more to push porn into normalcy than Sully ever did. Or perhaps Howard Stern.

In any event, the guy made his mark. Not bad for a former tax lawyer. Most of them are utterly irrelevant to everyone except the wealthy amongst us who don’t pay billions in taxes due to their advice and who probably still don’t remember their tax lawyers all that fondly on their deathbeds. I’m sure they don’t get a cut in the will.

All things end. That’s just the way it goes.

#9 Comment By Edward Hamilton On February 4, 2015 @ 5:40 pm

It’s hard to convey how discouraging it is to put hours into a thoughtful post, and get only 20 comments on it, but to just toss up a shallow Dreherbait post about a hot topic, and watch the comments thread sprawl past 200.

Rod, I’ve been conscious, occasionally to the point of guilt when I see them neglected, of how much time and effort you put into posts that are unique to your own life experiences rather than just appropriations of some other debate already raging elsewhere on the internet. It’s clear that you’ve invested a good deal of your life grounding familiar culturally conservative stances with deeper philosophical roots, and as a scientist with little training in the humanities, I often feel like my attempts to wade into some 12 paragraph post on Dante would just reveal to everyone that I’ve never actually read more than a few pages of the Inferno back in some forgotten college course. There’s a certain amount of camouflage that comes with having an opinion on a hot-button issue that everyone else is already willing to debate endlessly. Having an opinion about classic literature is a high-risk form of exposure, since there aren’t enough truly bad opinions in circulation to make my mediocre ones look good!

It’s important, I think, to realize that you’ve acquired a contingent of commenters who are here because of your ability to function as a reliable screener and moderator, and you’ve created a better average quality of comments (in a signal-to-noise sense) than virtually anywhere else on the internet. If I want to talk about some totally generic issue related to the Republican primary, or the latest variation of the abortion stalemate, or any other shallow issue that dominates the day’s flux of talking points, then there’s really nowhere else that’s doing a better job at filtering out the flame wars and the trolling than your blog. Don’t underestimate how valuable a service you provide to people who want to drop by here for just a quick stop of a few minutes, vent for a moment, and yet read mostly high quality responses on both sides of a heated issue. Being baited is easy, but the fact that so many people want to come here specifically to be baited is a compliment to your services as a master of ceremonies.

Anyway, RIP Dish. I can’t feel too much pity for Andrew sitting down like Alexander and weeping for the lack of another cultural landscape to conquer with his phalanxes of gays and tokers, but I can at least admire the relentlessness and strategic vision of his campaign. Most influential journalist of his era, as Ross Douthat would say (and Andrew would then cheerfully reblog). I’ll never forget the small thrill I received when I discovered the site back in graduate school, shot off a four line indignant email to some item, and then instantly got a reply. “A former editor at TNR just wrote me back in real time — how cool is that?”

#10 Comment By Derek Leaberry On February 4, 2015 @ 5:42 pm

I never read “The Dish” but it didn’t really fail. It existed a long time. The political debate was apparently worth while for the participants on the site. If “The Dish” was a failure, so was the Pony Express, which lasted about a year. Ebbetts Field did not fail, it was knocked down after Robert Moses killed it. The Army of Northern Virginia did not fail; it was ground down by numerical overwhelming forces. Woolworths and Montgomery Wards succeeded for a long time until they failed.

Real failures- the new Coke, the Edsel, Presidents Carter, Bush II and Obama, JFK Jr.s long forgotten rag.

#11 Comment By Wax Rhapsodic On February 4, 2015 @ 5:49 pm

Rod, I think the simplest explanation for Andrew’s retirement is captured in your anecdote about not having any unclogged thoughts. From time to time Andrew has tried to scale back, but he can’t really escape the site as long as it’s still there. As you acknowledge, one gets a charge from it.

In light of that, he’s treating it as one would any harmful dependency, total abstinence. I think the Dish could probably survive without him running the show, but I think he needs it to be well and truly dead so he isn’t compelled to return.

#12 Comment By Wax Rhapsodic On February 4, 2015 @ 5:50 pm

Please note, autocorrect changed unblogged to unclogged in the previous comment.

#13 Comment By Arthur On February 4, 2015 @ 6:05 pm

It’s kind of rough for you to say The Dish failed. Especially after Andrew promoted your work.

[NFR: But it did fail, in that Andrew couldn’t sustain his contribution, and it couldn’t survive Andrew’s withdrawal. I take absolutely no pleasure in the Dish’s failure. I paid for the Dish, and read it all the time. — RD]

#14 Comment By Jake Lukas On February 4, 2015 @ 6:06 pm

It’s hard to convey how discouraging it is to put hours into a thoughtful post, and get only 20 comments on it, but to just toss up a shallow Dreherbait post about a hot topic, and watch the comments thread sprawl past 200. After a while, you get worn out with that.

Then perhaps another form of feedback might be in order.

Reaction begets reaction; thoughtfulness begets thoughtfulness. It takes even less effort on the part of the reader to add the 178th comment to a shallow Dreherbait post as it did for the author to write it. But suppose instead you’ve written something thoughtful and worthwhile, something that actually causes a reader to stop and consider. He may not write because he’s actually giving the matter some thought.

You’ll look and see the 200 comments on the shallow article and the 20 on the article with more depth, and wonder why the former succeeded where the latter failed. But in which case did you best serve your audience? In which case did you confirm to a reader that your thoughts were worth returning to, that they weren’t just a chasing after the wind?

#15 Comment By Rob K On February 4, 2015 @ 6:18 pm

You say here not to base a new media platform around one person’s voice alone. I don’t think I agree – in fact, almost everything I read online is from blogs or other platforms where I can read one specific writer’s work.

The reason for that is trust. There’s a ton of stuff being spat out online, much of it in bad faith. I don’t have time to suss out the motivations of every writer, or chase down every fact. So I look for writers who I trust to tell the story honestly as they see it – even as they tell it from their particular perspective.

It’s why I read your blog, though I disagree with you about many things. It’s why I read Sullivan’s blog, even as I disagreed with him about other things; it’s why I read a handful of others. Without that single – trusted – voice, I’d drop them.

#16 Comment By Pat On February 4, 2015 @ 6:22 pm

I don’t think you can analyze the end of The Dish without noting that it didn’t allow comments. That frustrated me to no end. If I got engaged with a post, there was nothing to do about it! So reading Dish posts that interested me was more frustrating than enjoyable, and I stopped doing it.

Something else that may have been important was loading issues. I have no idea why, but the Dish took longer and longer to load as it went on, until I gave up even trying to open it.

Right now yours is the only blog I pay for, and it’s because of the community you’ve created and the kind of discussions we get into.

#17 Comment By Darth Thulhu On February 4, 2015 @ 6:25 pm

Rod wrote:

It’s hard to convey how discouraging it is to put hours into a thoughtful post, and get only 20 comments on it, but to just toss up a shallow Dreherbait post about a hot topic, and watch the comments thread sprawl past 200.

That’s how a Fallen, Flawed Humanity works.

A post of infinite, perfect, transcendant Serenity should have Zero comments, forever.

A post of impossible, intricate, mind-staggering complexity should have Zero comments, forever.

A clickbait post wailing about a big meanie taking candy from a baby and what a mean meanie she was being … should probably top 100 comments within less than one day.

Clicks aren’t necessarily Value. Comments aren’t necessarily Importance. Very often, less is more.

After a while, you get worn out with that. Lesson being, blogging is a form of journalism that is hard to sustain.

That depends entirely on the perks of social status one wishes to remain accustomed to. Even ten full-time staffers, willing to live on circum-minimum wage, could easily endure indefinitely on a mere $200k net profit (which the Dish easily clears).

Only the desire to sustain a coastal Provincetown household, a second home in central DC, regular commutes to TV appearances and offices in Manhattan, and vacations in Britain and San Francisco and Burning Man in any given year are unsustainable on that kind of cash flow. Only relentlessly building a media brand in elite circles is unsustainable on that kind of cash flow.

$20k a year is astonishingly far from homelessness, never mind starvation, for anyone without kids. Disentangle oneself from sky-high coastal metropolis real estate, and it is far more than adequate to enjoy countless modest pleasures.

It’s not a government union, or an elite sinecure at a credentialized firm, but such is the nature of Zero Fetters. Freedom, after all, is just another word for nothing to lose (and vice versa).

#18 Comment By Darth Thulhu On February 4, 2015 @ 6:28 pm

Rod wrote:

The Dish cost $20 per year to subscribe to. With 30,000 subscribers, that means gross revenue of $600,000.

1) Many paid far more than minimum. Probably $800-900k in subscribers.

2) He had maybe $30-40k a year in Amazon link kickbacks.

3) He had some other ancillary income streams.

Probaby roughly a million a year, gross.

#19 Comment By Dave On February 4, 2015 @ 7:11 pm

Normally, I’d think Andrew’s financials and protocols were none of our business. But given how personal this is to everyone, I’d say they definitely are.

I’m not a subscriber – I got a bit disenchanted during the 2012 election and never moved on. But $20 a year for the Dish? I could imagine paying (if I were to) $20 a month for that quality and quantity of content.

Understaffed or not, it could certainly be $20 twice a year, which would at least increase revenue by 50% (assuming some attrition). And yes, with a little ad space or the occasional NPR-style fundraising drive, the numbers could be made to work.

The community, name recognition, and brand itself are worth a fortune in cultural/social capital. The idea that that couldn’t be leveraged towards financial viability is almost nutty.

In terms of the burnout, why not have a rotating captain model, the way Andrew does when he’s on holiday. Wilkinson, Sanchez, Nolan Brown, even (if you can stomach it) Frum make for stimulating reading. And having the Dish Background cultural posts carried on by the “permanent bureaucracy” while the news angled are covered by a rotating guest roster – who would be honored to wave beneath the masthead – would possibly even be an improvement on Andrew’s (rather) predictable responses to events (beautiful and passionate as his writing is).

OR, if those full time writers are too occupied with their occupations, the next gen of younger writers could use the platform to come into their own. This may be a bit of a stretch, but when you think of what the New Republic was for their generation(s) of young political writers, there would be something poetic in having that torch passed to The Dish.

Anyway, I don’t have a lot of clout in Andrew’s world, so if you feel like passing any of this along (assuming he hasn’t heard the suggestions 1000 times already), feel free.

Like most people I feel very uncomfortable with letting such an important global forum simply evaporate. We’ve all seen the Dish function well enough when Andrew is away. And some sort of godfather/emeritus position would certainly be doable for the retiree in order to maintain the spirit of the thing.

Whatever. . .I’m bummed, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Excellent points on Andrew having won all of his battles (although a Bush/Palin ticket in 2016 might be too irresistible). But something still doesn’t add up. . .

#20 Comment By Quiddity On February 4, 2015 @ 7:38 pm

Put me down as someone who agrees that “Andrew won” was a big factor in this decision.

I did a fair amount of blogging during Bush’s presidency on the usual items (Iraq War, torture rumors, Katrina, economic policy, etc) but when the Democrats took congress in 2006, and certainly when Obama won in 2008, I lost the desire to blog, and stopped shortly thereafter.

#21 Comment By Darth Thulhu On February 4, 2015 @ 7:42 pm

Rod’s Four Theories of Dish Decline wrote:

1. It seems to me that they were overstaffed. Did they really need ten people to put out the blog, great as it was?

Depends on the labor valuation of total staff. Adorkably small Newsweeklies often have a couple dozen contributors, for example … but maybe 10 Full Time Equivalents, all told. I highly doubt that the Dish’s Poetry Editor was an FTE position, for example.

Andrew, Chris, and Patrick were obviously FLSA-Exempt managers, putting in absurdly more than 40 hours per week, but only counting as 3 FTEs.

The Dishterns were full-time paid but frugally paid. Probably $20k each per annum before benefits, maybe $25k each afterward.

Intervening editors may, or may not, have been FTE. As stated, I highly doubt the Poetry Editor was pulling full-time compensation. Sitman’s work dominated Sunday, but may well have required less than .75 FTE each week.

On ten contributors, I estimate budget at around 7.5 FTEs, with the top 3 pulling down middling five figures and everyone else being in flexible adjunct professor territory. They could have hacked that down to maybe 5 FTEs, but that wouldn’t have seriously changed their financials.

2. Do not make your media property dependent on one man’s personality, or on one man, period.

Strongly disagree.

Without a strong personality, I don’t see the Dish making money at all. Ever. Period.

Certainly not enough to be a rogue daily national newspaper, beholden to no People of Sugar. At best, I could see yet another clickbait advertizing-link mill, but Gawker Enterprises and Breitbart and HuffPo already exist.

3. Blogging exacts a serious physical toll on the blogger.

Absolutely. Seventy hour weeks for $40k salary may well not be a career Chris and Patrick want to pursue for more than a couple of years (although tens of thousands of retail managers do exactly that for an entire career). Yoking oneself to a national news megacorp might well be far less stressful and far more lucrative, at the cost of being notably less free.

Either way, no shame in being successful for two years, and then deciding that the life cost of that success is too great.

4. It is non-viable to have a blog based on subscriptions alone.

* For certain upper-middle-class values of Viable, perhaps.

But they already reaped at least $30k-40k in annual revenue from linking to Amazon sales (about the reported “few percent” of the roughly reported million bucks per annum). Banner ads and in-flow ads could have added another modest 5 digits, or maybe even low 6 digits … but the vast bulk of their revenue was always going to be subscriptions, short of becoming a clickbait mill.

Andrew et al could have set their server (and residence) up in rural upstate New York, or some exurb of Baltimore, and vastly lowered their operating costs. They could have made a simultaneous real estate commitment to own their multi-use office building, and “paid” their Dishtern (and themselves) in free residency in that joint building.

But that wouldn’t keep Sully and his family compensated in the manner to which they had grown accustomed. If he wanted to continue to cruise with his corporate and policy wonk and media pal peer group, with all the very expensive trappings of that social life, all of that was far beyond his new level of cashflow.

Closing down the Dish is a choice. Sully’s choice to make, certainly; but very, very far from “we just could not make this pay for itself”.

#22 Comment By Richard Parker On February 5, 2015 @ 12:14 am

You currently have 19 comments. To spare you any trauma, this is your 20th comment.

#23 Comment By Daniel On February 5, 2015 @ 8:03 am

Lost in the shuffle, I believe, is the fact that not too long before his decision to stop blogging Andrew reported suffering some very debilitating attacks of illness. I take him at his word that his high activity level was producing an unhealthy, perhaps even dangerous, amount of physical stress. His doctors may have told him to quit it or else.

#24 Comment By midtown On February 5, 2015 @ 10:12 am

Richard — very funny!

#25 Comment By Flavius On February 5, 2015 @ 10:32 am

I believe that Marshal McLuhan would say that there should be no surprise that it would prove very difficult to derive financial value, or any value, writing for a medium that by its nature tends to devalue everything. Not a Sullivan fan myself, considering him prone to hysteria, nonetheless I can sympathize with his dilemma: how long can anyone sustain themselves producing wind for a screen once that realization sets in? The medium is the message on both sides of the messaging; with this recognition, it’s over.

#26 Comment By SteelyTom On February 5, 2015 @ 11:04 am

You write that Andrew may have given up, in part, because he’d won. I’m more inclined to think that he feared loss– that of his readership, as the election calendar forced him out of his comfortable and profitable niche as Obama apologist.

Andrew branded himself as an iconoclast– gay, Catholic, conservative etc.– who’d made a left turn during the Iraq war. What if he turned again? What if he’d failed to march behind Hillary in lockstep, instead embracing, say, Rand Paul? And lost a chunk of his readers and income as a result?

In the end, the Dish became just another liberal blog, capable of occasional surprises but in the end as predictable in viewpoint as a back-bench Senate Democrat. Andrew may have come to see himself as inhabiting a gilded cage.

#27 Comment By Andrew S. On February 5, 2015 @ 11:50 am

Rod wrote: “Blogging rewards instant reaction, which means it’s hard to be thoughtful. It’s hard to convey how discouraging it is to put hours into a thoughtful post, and get only 20 comments on it, but to just toss up a shallow Dreherbait post about a hot topic, and watch the comments thread sprawl past 200.”

As someone who usually only comments on the Dreherbait, I just want to say that I highly value the more nuanced, thoughtful posts. Those posts are why I keep coming back to Rod’s work despite the fundamental differences in our world views. I’ve noticed that the pieces I enjoy the most usually end with you apologizing for rambling. Ramble on, I say! I’m pretty sure that Web analytics folks consider commenting the most important measure of reader engagement – and for the ad-selling ends to which they’re marshalling their statistics they’re probably on the mark – but this ignores the fact that reading, for instance, a lyrical essay on the prayer life of an Orthodox convert doesn’t exactly prompt one to hector the writer. I don’t know that there’s anyway around this, but the economics of internet writing prize the “hit piece” and the “takedown” above all. Sometimes those pieces are necessary, but I think the search for clicks has inflated their number. It’s reality show “I’ma pull out yo’ weave”-style conflict with an intellectual gloss. We’re all drawn to it, but it’s ultimately pretty pointless.

#28 Comment By economista On February 5, 2015 @ 2:10 pm

Reflecting on Sully’s burn-out – and without having read any of the comments above (apologies), I have a question: Does Andrew Sullivan have a stay-at-home wife to help him manage his household and family life? Seems like you might have a personal/professional advantage over him there, Rod.

#29 Comment By Jeremy Hickerson On February 5, 2015 @ 2:13 pm

As a Dish subscriber, the whole point of the Dish was Andrew. He is an extraordinarily interesting thinker who engages with dissent and shares his human experience. (These are also some of the things I like about you, Rod!)

There was no way to institutionalize himself, it would be a contradiction in terms. One of the things that made the Dish great was it’s refusal to play by smart business rules.

I started reading Andrew’s blog because I saw him on Charlie Rose. I was drawn in by the person and intellect, plain and simple.

#30 Comment By The Wet One On February 5, 2015 @ 2:25 pm


I must say, this:


is the finest term I’ve come across in 2015 to date. Please tell me it wasn’t a typo.

If it is a typo, it’s a surefire winner! 😀

And wow, there it is. It’s a bona fide dictionary word:


So much awesome!

#31 Comment By LeGray On February 5, 2015 @ 4:21 pm

I wish he/they had contemplated a wealthy patron, one for whom 7 to 8 figures is chump change.

#32 Comment By sean On February 5, 2015 @ 5:25 pm

“I think the prospect of spending the next 10 years blogging about Hillary and Bill Clinton is what is making Andrew ill.”

Chuckle, chuckle.

In all seriousness though, we must remember Sullivan came of age during the Clinton Administration, which is over 20 years ago. (man how time flies). Even bloggers go through middle-age ennui which, at this point of their lives, they decide a change is necessary and certainly was for Sullivan.

The loss of the The Dish (the decline of TNR as well) hurts as afar as interesting opinion goes but life goes on. I agree however, that if one wishes to make their livelihood from blogging, do so from an established organ of the media and not on your own.

#33 Comment By ShakeScene On February 7, 2015 @ 2:29 pm

Hello Rod. It’s 24 hrs since the last Dish post went up. Like a lot of Dish readers, I’m wandering up and down unfamiliar roads looking for some sanctuary, and have come to a place where, thanks to Andrew, I know your name through many links over the years.

For a lot of us, the reasons for shutting down completely didn’t initially seem to add up either. Yes, why not a reduced workload? Why not emeritus status for Andrew with no-pressure contributions made whenever? And, yes — sadly — why not a reduced staff? Those of us who loved Andrew like family, we — well, we loved him like *family*, with all the indulgence that requires. He was our brilliant, fun-loving, hypo-manic brother who became the cherished focus of family life. We knew his virtues and his quirks too, of course, which were invariably forgiven if never forgotten, particularly his propensity, under the right circumstances, for, um “drama.” It’s hard not to feel that singular disposition of his came into play.

That said, I think the reason the Dish could not survive in a scaled-down form really is for the reason Andrew said it could not: it was a group enterprise in a way that people who did not have an inside view could not appreciate. The unique synthesis of sensibilities involved would have made this an intensely personal endeavor and not just a professional one for the Dish staff. Dish readers felt this at a remove, but still in a powerful way: I became aware a long time ago of our sense of community, the palpable presence of many tens of thousands of readers who, like me, came by every day without fail, typically checking in several times a day. First thing in the morning, last thing at night.

But in the end it really depended on Andrew. It was his particular quality of all-too-human charisma that held it all together. The people who worked for Andrew were only there to work with him; the readers who came to the Dish ultimately came to rub shoulders with him. And I think I know why. He has an x-factor, and, I’m not afraid to say that it is love. Andrew is an extraordinarily loving person, and his remarkably expansive Christian faith made it possible to do it on a larger scale and across remote distances. It is why we were a community. We weren’t told that. One day we just knew it was so.

The other more mundane issues that would have made the continued enterprise dodgy at best more or less fall predictably into place, particularly with regard to subscriptions. I was always amazed how few people subscribed. Little more than 30,000 at a site that drew millions of hits a month. It always annoyed me to think that if just his twitter followers had pitched in, that would have been about 150,000 subscribers, and that’s real security. The fact is that hundreds of thousands of people came to the site on a regular basis and walked off with the free samples rather than paying a little bit for the quality of the goods on offer. Andrew always spoke positively and appreciatively of his subscribers (I was a charter subscriber and sent him an email at 1 minute after midnight the day the service came into effect and he, of course, responded), but the fact is that he never hit a million dollars gross revenue a year and the subscriber base seemed to have leveled off. It is inevitable that subscriptions would have fallen off with Andrew gone, making a marginal enterprise an unsustainable one. What the Dish crew did together was singular. They did it together, and the legacy obviously mattered to them. There would be no slow, sad death of this remarkable institution. It went out whole and intact and at the pitch of its creativity. I’m devastated by the loss. But I understand it.

So, if you don’t mind, I’d like to hang out here a little bit while I get my bearings.

[NFR: You are welcome to be here for as long as you like. As a writer, and fellow Dish subscriber, it pleases me to no end that you cherished another writer’s work like this. I also greatly appreciate your point about the responsibility of readers to support writers whose work means a lot to them. I’m feeling pretty bad, actually, about ending my subscription to the NYTimes, given that I find a way to read what I want there without paying for it. Like Andrew did, the Times pisses me off royally, with some frequency. But the gems are truly valuable. I really should pay for them, even if it kills me. — RD]