Magazine article Newsweek

New Media's Dark Star

Magazine article Newsweek

New Media's Dark Star

Article excerpt

Matt drudge should have been the shining star of Internet journalism. He is living proof that the Net hypesters are right: armed with little else than a Web site and a work ethic, an obscure outsider can steal click-throughs and mind share from Goliaths and even fulfill the American Dream, which is, of course, elevating one's moniker into a brand name. This he has done. The Drudge Report may be a garret compared to the virtual palaces of Big Media -- it's a style-free zone that looks like he's banged his typewriter ribbon directly on the screen -- but as his exclusives pile up, he is becoming the king of online scoops, the first real crossover from cyberspace to the mainstream. And, indeed, his Dickensian surname is as familiar to media junkies as Woodward and, um, Cokie.

But instead of being celebrated in a field where mavericks are revered, Drudge is viewed as the antichrist of HTML. Though he has been slapped with a $30 million libel suit by a White House official, sympathetic voices are harder to find than prime-time phone connections to America Online. Even his mere appearance on a "Meet the Press" pundit panel was cited by media bigfeet as proof positive of an ethical apocalypse.

Is this a case of Old Media raging against a comet collision with New Media that will doom the former to the fate of dinosaurs? A left-wing reaction to a Starr-struck Clinton-hater? Neither. The harsh examination of Matt Drudge is a healthy process that indicates how readers will cope with a possible explosion of journalism in the 21st century.

It started with a great idea. Drudge, a nonentity who left his home in the D.C. suburbs for a small Hollywood apartment (closest thing to a media job: working in the CBS gift shop), knew the Net well enough to figure out how to get movers and shakers to read his work: he gave it prime position in a densely packed list of Web links to virtually all the major gossip, commentary and media columns available online. In true Web fashion, everything was free. His own dispatches, usually loaded with anti-Clinton scuttlebutt, began to draw readers. AOL circulated the column to its members and paid him a modest stipend. Drudge boasted of himself as a digital Walter Winchell, and was getting press as a plucky loner on the front lines of new media.

His defining moment came last summer, when he reported an apparently false charge made by unnamed "top GOP operatives": journalist-turned-Clinton Sidney Blumenthal had covered up "a spousal-abuse past." Drudge published without talking to Blumenthal. It turned out that the "court records" mentioned in the story were nonexistent. Drudge retracted the item, but Blumenthal sued anyway.

The blunder would have hurt Drudge much worse were it not for the fortuitous emergence of Monica Lewinsky. …

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