Former Housemates Andrew Sullivan and Michael Hirschorn Discuss Future of Media

sullivan042209 Former Housemates Andrew Sullivan and Michael Hirschorn Discuss Future of Media“What’s the cost of being a nerd?” read the neon sign that greeted guests emerging from the elevator at Justin Smith’s apartment in Tribeca last night.

Provocative though it was, that question was not what had brought Bonnie Fuller, John Stossel, Adam Moss, Nick Denton, Sigourney Weaver, Ira Glass, Judith Regan, Wendy Williams, and a smattering of semi-bold names—some clutching notebooks, many clutching drinks—to this event. They were here at the invitation of The Atlantic, where Mr. Smith is president and James Bennet is editor-in-chief, to enjoy some chili and margaritas and listen to Andrew Sullivan and Michael Hirschorn address the question asked on the invite sent out by the magazine’s P.R. team: “What is the Future of Media?”

No answer was supplied during the 30 minute discussion which had Messrs. Sullivan and Hirschorn sitting on a small stage overlooking a rapt—occasionally twittering (and Twittering)—crowd. Mr. Bennet, who moderated the discussion, informed everyone that the two men were once housemates in Washington DC: “The pertinent fact is that I’ve known Andrew so long, I knew him when he was straight,” Mr. Hirschorn joked. (Apparently Mr. Sullivan had “an unreasonably hot girlfriend” at the time.)

Mr. Bennet started the discussion by asking Mr. Hirschorn about that day’s New York Times Company quarterly earnings report. “It was pretty dismal,” Mr. Bennet, a former Timesman, offered.

“We’re in kind of in remarkable, uncharted waters,” Mr. Hirschorn said. “There are scenarios in which The Times does not go out of business, but becomes a very different entity.”

Mr. Hirschorn, no idle observer, had wondered In the January/February issue of the magazine if The Times could cease printing in May.

The magazine editor-turned-producer foresees “profound changes and they’re gonna be unpleasant.” Later, he told the crowd of media workers, “I think it might be that there will be a time in the wilderness where there will be a huge and wrenching, horrible fallout… I mean, it sounds like Road Warrior or something. I don’t mean to sound like people are eating out of dog food cans. It’s really not that bad!”

Apocalypse, soon: Well, that’s one plausible future of media.

Mr. Sullivan, pulling on a bottle of beer, wasn’t so much concerned with dying newspapers as he was with the promise of blogging, something he’d written about before.

The writer described what attracted him to blogging in the first place: “The thrill was, for me—this was when Clinton was President—you could go on at night and be mean about [a] Maureen Dowd column before anyone had read it… So she would never even get the pleasure of the, like, twenty minutes of praise.” This was met with a big laugh from the audience.

Later, Mr. Sullivan told The Observer he posts 300 items a week to his blog, The Daily Dish, calling it “an obsessive compulsion.”

The blog, which he started as an independent venture in 2000 according to his bio, was hosted for a period on Time magazine’s Web site, before it was brought to TheAtlantic.com in January 2007.

“I’d do it for nothing!,” Mr. Sullivan said. “I used to be incentivized for traffic, but we changed that. And I realized, damn, I gave it away.”

Working for free: A very plausible future for media as well.