Here's the main thing I found interesting in Appell's piece:
[W]hat's especially bad, "professional bloggers" seem so intent on posting 20 times a day that all of their individual posts are basically useless, conveying nothing whatsoever.Appell goes on to pick apart a post by Matt Yglesias, who, like Sullivan, blogs at the Atlantic. So I'd say it's not so much "a pretty good smackdown of [Matt] in particular" as it is an expression of concern about the efforts of writers and readers. Appell would like people to read more weighty writing by serious experts, and this, I think, misapprehends human nature. People will study difficult things sometimes — mostly, when it's necessary in the pursuit of their career. But with or without blogs, people read for fun. And blog reading — especially when there's a comment section — provides a kind of social interaction that you can't get from a book. It's a different experience from reading a book, and it's probably richer than what most people would be reading if they weren't reading blogs.
For example, I think Andrew Sullivan, by becoming a blogger, has completely ruined his standing as a writer of serious political and gay analysis. Now he posts 40 times a a day [sic], and includes so many insipid or inconsequential things and meaningless pieces of campaign gossip, and very, very little (i.e. none) of what he writes changes my life in any way whatsoever. I have stopped reading him.
The question whether blogging is ruining the writers is quite different. Posting 40 or even 20 times a day does seem excessive, and I have a problem if Sullivan and Yglesias are cranking out posts because their employer imposes a quota. I think there is a kind of prolific, money-driven blogging that would suck the life right out of you. Sullivan had 37 posts on Friday! Did all of that just spring out of his fertile, energetic, overflowing brain in the pure joy of blogging or is this commerce?
I love prolific, eccentric blogging on divergent topics, and I do blog for the sheer intrinsic pleasure of it. Could I put the same energy into writing a serious book every year? I would have more time for other projects if I didn't blog, but I can't just take the energy and put it somewhere else. Blogging creates its own sort of energy. To say take that energy and write a serious book is like saying to someone who is in love with a guy who's no good for her that she should take that love and give it to this other guy who's got a steady job and stays home in the evenings.
But I don't know why Andrew Sullivan is blogging the way he is or how valuable the books he doesn't write would be. Nevertheless, his blog is wonderful. It's a model of multifariousness. I don't trust anyone who thinks writing like that undermines the other, longer, focused writing that he happens to get done at the same time. The notion that he has "completely ruined his standing as a writer of serious political and gay analysis" is quite simply insane (or jealous). Being serious all the time is not the only way to be serious, and it's probably not even a good or healthy way to be serious. It might be that Sullivan, with his elite, advanced education, could have become more of a scholar and less of a polemicist, but he went right into journalism after he got his Ph.D, long before blogging was invented.
Yglesias is another matter. He's young and unproven. Unlike Sullivan, he hasn't written books that have made a difference. Nor does he have an advanced degree that would make us think he should be writing scholarship. He's just a young pundit, and who knows if he has anything more useful to offer than his blog and his blog-like book? I'd rather read his blog than his book, but what difference does it make if he writes in a book or on a blog? If it's on the blog, people can comment — unlike Sullivan, he has comments — and other bloggers can cut and paste and link. That's all perfectly fine. Who thinks there is a more profound book that we're missing out on?
As for me, I'm old and I've written plenty of scholarship. Hardly anyone has read it and it has had approximately zero effect. Blogging is my métier. That's just the way it is.