He’s the best-known online journalist in the world and while Crikey occasionally cracks 4000 page views a day, Drudge has 1.5 million on a good day.
Since its launch, the circulation of the Drudge Report has grown to 1.5 million page views a day (over 340 million a year). In that time, Matt has changed neither the computer he uses nor the aesthetics of the site, yet he continues to receive over 10,000 daily e-mails, as well as tremendous press coverage, most notably for his “scoop” about l’affaire Lewinsky.
In an era when online news sites fold almost daily, and only a select few of the remaining show any hope of ever turning a profit, when the big news corporations spend millions worrying about “monetization,” “ad revenue models,” and how to further blur the separation of church and state, Matt Drudge soldiers on.
I caught up with Mr. Drudge at the Democratic National Convention, after Al Gore’s acceptance speech, outside a Staples Center skybox, amidst a swirl of big-name reporters rushing to file stories and schmooze celebrities. Minus his trademark pork pie hat, Drudge was ostensibly “undercover.” But the most famous journalist on the West Coast is hard to miss; it’s not the hat that makes him recognizable, it’s that inimitable Drudge smirk.
Jim Monk: What did you think of Gore’s speech?
Matt Drudge: I thought it was a disaster. But I’m from the enemy camp. Bush was not as good as I thought he could have been, either. Both of these conventions have been really bad. Politics feels dead.
Monk: It does, doesn’t it.
Drudge: For me it does. You know, the most interesting thing here is just media row and people like Leon Panetta who are rushing because they are “important” and they are going on television.
Monk: Did you check out the shadow convention?
Monk: Does it bore you? Not bore you, but what do you think? A circus?
Drudge: I’m not into this stuff. I was into the Russian sub this week. I’m following the real news, not these mock conventions of years gone past. But I truly wish Gore nothing but trouble and nothing but hell for the next couple of months because I think anyone who wants to be president this bad ought to be f***ed and f***ed and f***ed….
I want an age where you really don’t want to be president, back to the George Washington type thing where they have to recruit you. Not this “I wanna lead and I wanna be your leader,” and at the end the preacher called him our “servant. ” I don’t want Gore as my “servant.”
Monk: Do you have a pantheon of political heroes?
Monk: No positive heroes? Not from over 200 years of American history?
Drudge: Not today. Not the way I feel.
Monk: Not anybody?
Drudge: Sure. I’m being a bit sour, but it’s coming off the summer we’re having between the Republicans and this. I mean, I want to run for the hills…
Monk: Maybe you want to run for office?
Monk: Why not?
Drudge: You’ll have to recruit me.
Monk: I will. Right now.
Drudge: How did you recognize me? I’m supposed to be in disguise.
Monk: You can’t hide from me, man, I’ve got good eyes.
Drudge: Been hanging out with Joe Eszterhas and he’s been mobbed. I made the mistake of wearing my pork pie hat. I got two hernias from it.
Monk: Was there any high point? Did you do anything at the convention that was fun?
Drudge: It’s funny seeing big shots who think they actually are influencing things, on cable news, running up and down these halls. That’s the funniest thing. To see Leon Panetta was hysterical, running from NBC and ABC to CBS and, you know, “move out of my way” and that sort of thing.
Monk: So, this whole third party business, that’s not what is new and interesting.
Drudge: No. No.
Monk: Maybe we are in a post-political age.
Drudge: I think we are.
Monk: So how do you keep the umbrage, the fire from when you started? Don’t you burn out?
Drudge: Nooooo. Not with this much commotion and excitement, no way. With a million and a half visits yesterday, I can’t burn out. That’s a window of opportunity, and it’s gonna close. You can’t not grab it.
Monk: How do you run it so that it’s a sane operation, so you’re not up all 24 hours?
Drudge: It is 24 hours, there’s no way around it.
Monk: You get sleep? Do you set regular hours?
Drudge: I do get sleep, yes.
Monk: You’ve changed a little bit, the site’s become more established in that sense?
Drudge: No. I always got sleep, but it’s just that it’s up all the time. It’s always a flow.
Monk: How many people now are part of the vast oligarchy of Drudge?
Drudge: Just one other guy.
Drudge: Yeah. Gotta keep it simple.
Monk: Why did you quit the Fox News thing? I never understood that.
Drudge: ‘Cause cable news, ’cause TV is dead.
Monk: Yeah, but it got you traffic.
Drudge: No, it did not. I had 300,000 viewers on Fox News. I have a million and a half on…
[CNN correspondent Jeff Greenfield hurries by, but doesn’t stop to say hi.]
Drudge: How’d you do Greenfield?
[A clearly uncomfortable Greenfield doesn’t recognize him.]
Drudge: Matt Drudge again. How’d you do?
Greenfield [still walking]: How did I do what?
Drudge: Overall. You’re having a good week. 2 million tonight I bet.
Greenfield [exiting through a door]: Easy.
Monk [laughing]: He wasn’t willing to shake your hand.
Monk [still laughing]: He wasn’t willing to come over and, like, give you a hug.
Drudge: They were pushing him along. I’m his “home page,” he claims. He reads me for “the links,” he’ll say. That’s what they all say.
Monk: What do you think about this whole dot-com convention coverage?
Drudge: Terrible, meaningless.
Monk: Is it all hype? Are all the sites going to close anyway, 90 percent of them?
Drudge: Yes, yes. They’re already closed after tonight. Pseudo.com was just for these conventions. I’m assuming, I don’t know. It’s like an episode of “Soul Train” which you watch now from the seventies with the afros. We’re gonna feel that way with the dot-coms. It’s like, what was that? Why was that?
Monk: Sort of like ‘zine publishing?
Drudge: Yeah, total ‘zines, all of these. Corporate ‘zines. MSNBC is like a five-hundred-million-dollar corporate ‘zine.
Monk: People go to MSNBC.
Drudge: No, they don’t. WebTV has it as a default page. When you buy a WebTV it defaults to MSNBC, and nobody knows how to undo the default. So, granny, when she logs on to WebTV, it always loads to MSNBC. They’ll issue a press release claiming they are the number one Web site in the world. They won’t tell it’s only because of the damned default WebTV.
Monk: But the TV network itself does well. Chris Matthews, his show does well.
Drudge: 200 thousand, 300 thousand? That’s not my definition of “well.” I deal with millions. But millions aren’t millions, and millions aren’t what they used to be.
Monk: What is your secret? What do you do differently than your competitors?
Drudge: Bravery. Not giving a shit about what Michael Eisner or Murdoch think. I don’t give a shit what they think. They have their playground, I’ve got mine. They can’t say that, though. Peter Jennings has someone he reports to. I don’t. So that’s the difference. That’s the key to the success of this. The Internet’s about independence. They’re making it over into this corporate glaze and this image of ABCNEWS-dot-com, CBSNEWS-dot-com. They’re taking a TV model and they’re bastardizing the Internet, and then they’re reporting it as if they are the hits of the Internet, because they have the microphone. It’s not happening.
Monk: So it’s back to the roots of the Internet then. It’s whoever really is giving us stuff we’re not getting through traditional media that will get the traffic?
Drudge: I can’t say. I think it’s impossible to get traffic anyway unless you’re established and have got big money. I got lucky and I got sued by Clinton’s senior advisor [Sidney Blumenthal] for thirty million dollars, and it made me a star.
Monk: So, in your opinion, launching a news dot-com, it’s just over, it’s just impossible? To get the kind of traffic you get now would be just impossible on a one-man, two-man level?
Drudge: Yes. Impossible. I think so. I don’t know how I would do it. I only know how to do it now because I’ve got the audience. It sort of feeds upon itself. If I were starting today I don’t know what I would do.
Monk: Are you going to go broadband?
Drudge: No. No. I hate all of that stuff. I’m Java free. I’m app free. I’m nothing. All that stuff is for losers. All that stuff. I don’t see it. My site’s black and white, very simple load. 18K max. Just the way I’m operating. I have Java off. I surf without images. I’m using an old, old version of Netscape.
Monk: Do you have an e-mail I can reach you at if I need to?
Drudge: E-mail’s on the web site, but I’m not sure I’ll respond.
Monk: Is there another way I could get back to you to verify some things?
Drudge: I don’t believe in fact checking.
It’s a great site, so check out Online Journalism Review at http://ojr.usc.edu