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What will be the fate of Arts & Letters Daily?

December 28, 2010 | 12:12 pm

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The Chronicle of Higher Education, which has owned the website Arts & Letters Daily since 2002, has released a statement regarding the death of founding editor Denis Dutton and the future of the online journal.

Dutton died of cancer on Tuesday in New Zealand, where he made his home. "Denis was the creative force behind Arts & Letters Daily and wrote all the items on the page himself, even when he was on vacation. He is nearly irreplaceable," Phil Semas, president and editor in chief of The Chronicle, said in the statement. "Even so, we intend to continue Arts & Letters Daily in the spirit in which Denis created and nurtured it."

When it started in 1998, Arts & Letters Daily stood out. As Blake Eskin writes in the New Yorker's news blog:

Denis was the intellectual's Matt Drudge. Like the Drudge Report, aldaily.com has a retrograde design that has barely evolved over the years; Denis said he modelled it on the eighteenth-century broadsheet. Nevertheless, it became the home page of professors, students, editors. To be featured on Arts & Letters Daily meant your work would be read and discussed, whether you were Christopher Hitchens or a struggling neophyte, whether your piece appeared in The New Yorker or an obscure site with six regular readers. ...

Through Arts & Letters Daily, Denis helped prove that the Web could be a platform not only for fast-paced celebrity gossip and pictures of cute animals but for long and serious writing and the exchange of complex ideas.

At Three Quarks Daily, founding editor S. Abbas Raza writes:

Arts & Letters Daily, of which Denis was the founder and longtime editor, was one of the main inspirations for my starting 3 Quarks Daily. Indeed, the "Daily" in our own name comes in imitation of Denis's site, which had set the gold standard that we have aspired to match in our own curating of slightly different intellectual content on the web. Despite the fact that we were competitors of sorts, Denis was kind and supportive to me personally, and added 3QD to the "favorite websites" section of A & L Daily within weeks after I had started this site in 2004 (and we retain that honor to this day).

Over the years, Denis and I corresponded frequently about various subjects, including the Dutton School which he started in India (my mother started a school in Pakistan, so this was a common interest), his academic work, and, of course, our websites. He once called 3QD "a brilliant web resource and a terrific accomplishment," which gave me quite a thrill.

But 12 years is a long time to be curating links on the internet, and Eskin points out, rightly, that Arts & Letters Daily had become less of a must-visit Web destination. Part of this may have been due to Dutton's sometimes contrary ideas; part of it can likely be chalked up to the fact that the site never incorporated some contemporary Web bells and whistles (no likes, no Twitter, yadda yadda). "The Chronicle will announce further plans for the continuation of Arts & Letters Daily after the holidays," its spokesperson confirmed to me via e-mail. Maybe its future will include a little sprucing up.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Image credit: Arts & Letters Daily

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