Why I’m at The Dispatch
Kevin D. Williamson in his own words.
“They’ve got Goldberg and Hayes and French, and now Allahpundit, just add Williamson and The Dispatch will have the full set.” Funny thing—I’ve been hearing that from people who love The Dispatch and from people who ... don’t love The Dispatch. It is the one thing they agree on.
I love The Dispatch. And, so, here I am.
Some of you may know me from National Review, where I spent 15 years, or from the Atlantic, where I spent three days, or from my earlier newspaper work, or from one of my books. I’ve done a lot of different things, but the thing I’ve always liked best is long-form reported pieces, going to places where interesting things are happening and trying to understand them and explain them. The idea is to make you say, “Huh, interesting, I didn’t really know anything about that.” In most cases, I won’t have known very much about that two weeks ago, either—whatever that is—which is fun. Someone once described journalists as “people who have the bad taste to learn in public.” And that’s what I’m here at the Dispatch to do, mostly.
I’m not going to pretend that I don’t enjoy delivering verbal beatdowns to sundry miscreants defiling our public life and institutions—or that readers haven’t enjoyed those, too, or that I’m not good at that—but that isn’t what I’m here to do. That’s the directive from Dispatch On High Such As It Is: extra reporting, hold the hot takes.
Let me pull back the editorial curtain here a little bit:
I’ve sat in on a few long Dispatch meetings, and what was not talked about was this or that former or future presidential candidate, how to position ourselves for the midterms or 2024, how to influence this or that aspect or this or that party’s internal factional politics, or anything like that. The Dispatch is here to do journalism—not politics. I have nothing but the most narrowly limited and partial respect for people who do political speechwriting or run campaigns, but that isn’t what we are here to do.
We did talk in those meetings about the tensions inherent in building a reporting-based publication in an opinion-forward environment in a business currently anchored by a few famous opinion writers. The Dispatch is operating on the theory that our readers aren’t stupid. What that means as a practical matter is that we can do good reporting and good opinion journalism at the same time, as long as we do them both intelligently and with a high degree of integrity. Readers know that publications have points of view: There is a reason so many old U.S. newspapers have Republican or Democrat in the name. Having a point of view isn’t the same thing as distorting the facts—or ignoring them or making stuff up!—to support a political agenda.
Rage drives clicks. Quality drives subscriptions. And our business model is based on subscriptions, not clicks.
And that is why I am here.
Jesse James, the motorcycle builder, has a tattoo on the palm of his hand that reads, “Pay Up, Sucker!” We think readers will pay for the best kind of content, and I suspect that the ones who think they’re going to get something worthwhile for free are the actual suckers.
(I interviewed Jesse James once. The inked-up gearhead biker was calling from his summer home in Rhode Island, like some kind of fancy Gilded Age gentleman of leisure. He figured out that people will pay for content.)
I’ll be writing a weekly newsletter called Wanderland, which will reflect both geographic and mental wanderings, along with “Econ for English Majors,” shorter columns, and longer reports from corners of the world that aren’t always at the top of New York-Washington reporters’ thoughts. (If you have any good ideas for stories that need to be told, please do send them to me.) If that sounds like something that you’d be interested in, then sign up here for the Dispatch’s full range of reporting, opinion, analysis, newsletters, and dog pictures.
For those of you who are already Dispatch members, thank you for your continued support. If you’ve been on the fence, here’s a special 30-day free trial offer to give a full-access membership a shot.