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Accolades roll in for Dutton website

Reprinted from University of Canterbury's "Chronicle" - 16/07/04

Associate Professor Denis Dutton (Philosophy) has been named by Time magazine as among "the most influential media personalities in the world."

Associate Professor Dennis Dutton (Philosophy)
Associate Professor Dennis Dutton (Philosophy)

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The accolade appears in the June 14 American edition in an article on the growing popularity of web logs (blogs). Professor Dutton is singled out for his internationally acclaimed website Arts and Letters Daily (ALD).

While flattered by the praise, Professor Dutton is quick to point out that the ALD site is not actually a proper blog.

"It is not a running commentary on world events, much less a personal diary. Arts and Letters Daily is just a directed reading list with attitude.

"Actually, theTime reporter admitted to me that the site doesn't fit with other web logs. But writers and editors at Time have been reading it for years. I guess they wanted to include it."

Professor Dutton launched the site in September 1998. "The idea was simply to have a single page where readers with an intellectual bent could find the best writing available on the web - politics, arts, ideas."

Today the site attracts nearly two million page views a month and boasts more than 300,000 regular readers worldwide. The Time article uses the word "influential" with good reason. The site is widely read by journalists, editors, business leaders, academics and government officials. When I last heard, it was the homepage of Peter Jennings of ABC News.

Since the article appeared, nearly 4000 readers have clicked on the ALD link directly fromTime website. Many more are visiting on account of the paper edition which has a print run of about 4 million.

"Time does have circulation grunt."

The ALD format mimics an 18th century broadsheet newspaper, a layout chosen because it fits the maximum amount of words in the minimum space.

Every day Professor Dutton and his colleague, Ohio economics professor Tran Huu Dung, read articles from around the world. From a shortlist Professor Dutton selects three to post on the site and writes the teaser paragraphs that draw the readers in.

'There is a contrarian spirit to the page, an astringency. Contrasting points of view keep readers coming back," Professor Dutton said. "Many of the ideas on the page come out of universities. ALD is now owned by The Chronicle of Higher Education in Washington.

"Good material is scattered so widely over the Internet that people need a single, central site from which they can access newspapers, magazines and provocative, thoughtful readings. That was the original purpose of Arts and Letters Daily and it's served it fairly well for thousands of readers. Next year, we should pass the 100 million mark for total page views since ALD first appeared."

It is not just Time which is impressed with the site. It has been described by the Guardian as the "best website in the world", and by the BBC Music Magazine as "the one indispensable website in English". The New York Times called it "the intellectual's watering hole". Robert Fulford, praising it in The National Post, said, "The idea of Christchurch, New Zealand, as the thought-control centre of the universe has both charm and originality".

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