For fifteen years, Matt Drudge has been the most hated man in the newspaper business. His Drudgereport.com was the proto-aggregator, the web’s original sin, the first major news site to offer no original news content. Beyond the rare, one-paragraph (or one-sentence) “exclusive,” all Drudge serves is an ugly page a day of links to other people’s stuff, artlessly assembled on a high contrast digital broadsheet, reduced to shrill tabloid headlines bellowing at you in ALL CAPS. Drudge normalized aggregation and now everybody and your uncle is doing it. Especially your uncle, now that Facebook and Twitter have supercharged news sharing through services that make Drudge look like yesterday’s news.
Except he isn’t. A shocking Pew Research Center study tracked the web sites of the New York Times, CNN, Fox News and 22 other top news sites to find out how people get to them. The top “referer” from which traffic originates? Drudge. Drudge beats Google. Drudge beats Facebook. Drudge beats Twitter—by a lot. “Legacy” news folks detest Drudge—just look at the Associated Press story on the Pew study, picked up in hundreds of newspapers, which buried the lede on Drudge’s surprising dominance to focus instead on Facebook’s lesser influence. But as much as journalists hate Drudge, it is clear they need him. They may consider his aggregation to be a kind of theft or plagiarism, but even so, they can’t afford to have him stop stealing from them. Each time he does, he sends a torrent of readers their way.
Why has the Drudge Report maintained and prospered? It has ignored every innovation that has hit the web since 1996. It isn’t social—it doesn’t know who you are, who your friends are, what you buy or what you like. It isn’t part of the “realtime web”—viral hits and memes don’t register on this news ticker. It couldn’t be further from a “content-farm,” those virtual sweatshops where thousands of cheap, poorly-edited articles are pumped out weekly to fill “holes” in the web, where information that people are searching for doesn’t already exist.
Drudge doesn’t care what you’re interested in. He’ll tell you what’s important. His news sense is impeccable, and his thermometer for the national mood is accurate to the decimal. He shuffles every day through a triple-deck of other people’s news to arrive at a sparse collection of the most relevant items, which he re-titles and organizes into an explosive one-page haiku of elegant bombast. He is a genius aggregator.
We used to call people like him front-page editors.