How did we get here? The trajectory of any of the bloggers Smith mentions would work, but let’s take Andrew Sullivan. In the 1990s, he was fully ensconced in print institutions (among other things, he edited The New Republic). When he started a blog, it was on his own—other than a small handful of strange, Web-only creatures, in 2001, what magazine wanted a blog? By 2005, the answer to that question had changed, allowing Sullivan to ensconce his blog in larger institutions—Time, The Atlantic, and The Daily Beast, in chronological order. This was the golden age of the personal blog: The Internet had empowered a few strong writers to create their own brand (if you were idiosyncratic—say, if you were gay, English, Catholic, and heretically conservative—then all the better) and a few strong big brands to create their own small brands (Media Decoder was launched in 2009, and finds its roots in TV Decoder, a blog that was started when the Times poached writer Brian Stelter, who like Sullivan, Klein, et. al had built a following on the Internet as a personal brand). Meanwhile, readers interested in reading the best that had been thought and said on the Internet had no choice except to follow along—the best they could do was to use RSS to focus on the feeds they tended to find interesting.
But today, Google Reader is dying, Media Decoder is dead, and Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish is alive in new form. This year, Sullivan decided that he was a big enough brand, commanding enough attention and traffic, to strike out on his own. At the beginning of the last decade, the institutions didn’t need him. Today, he feels his best chance for survival is by becoming one of the institutions, complete with a staff and a variety of content. What wasn’t going to work was continuing to have, merely, a blog.