NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- It's a thrill to watch journalist Andrew Sullivan break away from big media companies and launch his own reader-supported, ad-free venture to continue the work that has made him so famous and successful as a true independent.
The dawn of the digital age has generally been tough on professional content producers because the Internet has disrupted many of the traditional business models that supported their livelihood. The great promise of the web, though, has always been that it will ultimately enable talented content producers to break free from the corrupting influence of the handful of giant media conglomerates that have long had a stranglehold on access to mass audiences. This cutting out of the middle-man will ultimately lead to a more direct connection between audiences and creators and more quality content.
Sullivan is one of the few figures in journalism who can pull off such a stunt now, so it may be overly optimistic to call this the beginning of a trend towards this ideal, but I hope it is. We are in dire need of mainstream, popular journalists who can achieve pure financial and editorial independence. Judging by the early results of Sullivan's foray, he's well on his way to achieving that.
Sullivan announced last week that he's leaving Newsweek/Daily Beast, and its corporate overlord
, and launching his own company called Dish Publishing LLC. This means that his popular blog --
The Dish -- will no longer be polluted with advertising, and his regular readers will be asked to pay at least $20 a year for the site's content. More than 12,000 readers have already ponied up, according to media reports, at an average price of $28.
We hear a lot these days about the shrinking of the news industry and the negative effects of the Internet on American journalism, but we hear very little about the web's positive effects, which are numerous. For those willing to find it, there is now more fact-based, enlightening information easily available to people than ever before. I think this is bringing a wave of public enlightenment to our society and the world beyond -- the ramifications of which we really have yet to comprehend -- but in the meantime, professional journalists have struggled to keep up with social media and the explosion of information availability.
Many call Sullivan a blogger as opposed to a journalist because of the new medium that he has pioneered. I don't care for the term because it leads many people to dismiss Sullivan and others like him as something other than a journalist, and that is completely wrong.
Bloggers are journalists that use the Internet -- the world's new communication tool of choice -- as their medium. The Internet, as a medium, is far different than print, radio and television (in fact, it's all of those things and much more), and not surprisingly, journalism online is evolving into something far different than the bulk of the journalism purveyed by mass media conglomerates like
The New York Times
and so on.
Many media businesses are struggling now because, despite all their talk about being hip to the digital age, they're still -- when you boil it down -- trying to move their traditional modes of journalism onto the web and continue selling ads and subscriptions as if not much has changed.
People like Sullivan, however, are not stuck with the old legacy mode of newspaper and magazine writing and reporting that many of us learned in school. They're having success because the new form of journalism they're practicing is native to the Internet and completely different than the old-school. When it's done right, it's a lot better, too.
Online journalism harnesses the social, interactive power of the web to create a community of readers, writers, reporters and commenters that are all gathering information together and sharing and debating ideas -- hopefully on subjects that they're genuinely passionate about.
The complex but natural reporting process that is generated by this has a certain organic authenticity that is rarely found on TV or radio or in newspapers or magazines. More expertise and perspective is typically brought to bear. The pretense of objectivity is abandoned, making for a more honest forum, and everything is generally much more transparent.
Online journalists like Sullivan invite their audience into the reporting process and bring them along for the ride, while many traditional journalists keep the reporting process between them and their sources, leaving their audience in the dark about how they came upon the information they're reporting. Naturally then, traditional journalists often put the interests of their sources above their audience -- a major problem in the corporate media -- whereas the new breed of online journalist is reestablishing a genuine connection with readers and earning their trust in an age where distrust of the media is probably more rampant than distrust of government.
I often disagree with Sullivan, but he has earned my admiration as a brave and important voice in the gay rights movement, and he has earned my trust as a journalist trafficking in facts and reality as opposed to blind ideology and tackling the key, tough issues of the day while mixing in a healthy dose of arts, culture and amusement.
When I visit The Dish, I know my time will not be wasted. I'll be greeted by a skillfully curated, multimedia stream of informed comment that is smart, funny, honest, provocative, relevant, interesting, enlightening and soon ... totally independent! Do you think that's worth $20 a year?
At the time of publication the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.