- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 25, 2003

Not many publications could boast of appealing simultaneously to Norman Podhoretz and Eric Alterman, two diametrically opposed political pundits. Yet that's exactly what Arts & Letters Daily, a Web-based clearinghouse of intellectual journalism, has managed to do.
Launched in 1998 by Denis Dutton, a philosophy professor at Canterbury University in New Zealand, the mind-expanding Web site (www.artsandlettersdaily.com) has become regular morning reading for thousands of journalists, academics and policy-makers in Washington and other intellectual hubs.
Drawing material from publications as diverse as First Things (a conservative Catholic journal), Reason (a libertarian magazine) and Dissent (a democratic socialist quarterly), it has straddled the ideological divide. If you have peered across the ideological divide lately, you can imagine what a painful stretch that must be.
Mr. Podhoretz, a neoconservative warrior of ideas, and Mr. Alterman, a sometimes strident left-liberal columnist for the Nation magazine, both publicly praised the Web site when it lost its financial footing last fall, according to Tran Huu Dung, a Wright State University economics professor who is the site's managing editor.
"Any contrarian, fresh view is a possibility for the site," says Mr. Dutton, editor of A&L; Daily, via e-mail. "We certainly get complaints from all over the political spectrum, which I suppose is as it should be."
Arts & Letters Daily links to a wide range of international and domestic newspaper articles, book reviews, scholarly journals and eggheady Web logs (that's "blogs" to the Web-savvy). Emblazoned across the site's top-right corner is a Latin motto: "Veritas Odit Moras," which means "Truth detests folly."
"Both the right wing and left wing can see something they wouldn't normally read. That's the best thing about the page," Mr. Tran, 57, says in a phone interview.
On its first day, the site received a meager 300 page views, according to Mr. Dutton. On Jan. 13 of this year, it logged more than 72,000 hits.
"The growth has been steady through the years," Mr. Dutton, 58, says.
Growth came to an abrupt halt last October, however, when University Business, the company that owned the Web site and published Lingua Franca magazine, went belly-up.
Arts & Letters Daily was down for several weeks, after which the Chronicle of Higher Education, a top publication among university faculty and administrators, acquired the Web site.
An example of the many tributes paid to the site during its shutdown period, from the cultural critic and essayist Joseph Epstein: "I shall refrain from over-dramatizing by saying that the lights went out all over Western civilization, but in my heart a small black flag descended. Arts & Letters Daily… has for me long been the most useful, and most continuously used, thing on the Internet."
"We have long admired the site, and we were concerned when it looked like it was going to go under," says Scott Jaschik, managing editor of the Chronicle, by phone. "We just wanted to put the site on a solid basis."
Mr. Jaschik says the Chronicle was "overwhelmed" by the positive responses it received from readers who were grateful that A&L; Daily was back online.
"We were just flooded with e-mails, saying, 'Thank you; my mornings haven't been the same without it,'" Mr. Jaschik says.
After the Chronicle purchased A&L; Daily, Mr. Dutton and Mr. Tran met in person for the first time after a three-year virtual working relationship.
"I came to know the site in 1999," says Mr. Tran, who is Vietnamese. An admirer of the site, he wrote to Mr. Dutton and offered a few suggestions about its organization and content. Their correspondence turned by degrees into a collaboration, then a full-blown partnership.
"Once in a while, when [Mr. Dutton] was away, he asked me to take over for him," Mr. Tran says. "I worked for free for three years that's what Denis liked about me."
(Since the Chronicle bought A&L; Daily, they both have received a small salary for running the site.)
Mr. Dutton, who grew up in California and taught philosophy at the University of Michigan at Dearborn before moving his family to New Zealand 18 years ago, came up with the idea for a one-stop-shopping catalog of intellectual writing.
The model for Web sites such as A&L; Daily was journalist Matt Drudge's drudgereport.com, a first-of-its-kind Internet newsstand. But Mr. Dutton says A&L; Daily is different from the Drudge Report and other sites in the "blogosphere."
"The admirable Matt Drudge had a news site from the very beginning," he says. "The idea of Arts & Letters Daily, on the other hand, was to present a single page that contained in one place the best reading that is available on the Web. Arts & Letters Daily doesn't so much break stories as assemble provocative thinking."
Also, unlike blogs, such as those maintained by Andrew Sullivan (andrewsullivan.com) and Joshua Micah Marhsall (talkingpointsmemo.com), A&L; Daily doesn't aim to connect personally with its readers, Mr. Dutton says.
"Blogs are reminiscent of 19th-century commonplace books scrapbooks of reflections, cutout quotations, diary entries and so forth," he says. "Arts & Letters is less personal. It is intended only to incite thought."
One advantage A&L; Daily has over other small Web operations is that its two editors live on opposite sides of the globe, Mr. Dutton in New Zealand, as mentioned, and Mr. Tran in Dayton, Ohio, which allows them to keep the site fresh continually throughout the day.
On top of their academic responsibilities, operating A&L; Daily is like a second full-time job.
"This is a 24/seven operation," says Mr. Tran, who works up to six hours a day on the Web site, efficiently roaming the Web and culling articles from at least 20 newspapers a day as well as from such magazines as the Economist and Atlantic Monthly.
Aside from spanning the world's time zones, the pair also carefully ensure that the site doesn't play ideological favorites, arguably its greatest asset.
Mr. Tran says he tends toward a liberal political worldview, while Mr. Dutton generally is more conservative. What they share is an omnivorous curiosity.
"We do not agree all the time in our political views, but we both are open-minded," Mr. Tran says.

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