Matt Drudge is Powerless with a Pen and Paper
Matt Drudge may be a muckraker or a newsmonger or both, but one thing is certain: he could not have become a successful journalist if the Internet did not exist. His site, The Drudge Report, fundamentally changed the way the media and the Internet function, and transformed Drudge from a wannabee reporter into a powerhouse in the journalism community.
However, for someone who has devoted his adult life to exposing other people’s dirty secrets, very little is actually known about Drudge’s background.He grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland near the nation’s capital, where politics and journalism found him early. His first job as a kid was delivering the Washington Star newspaper. In an interview with Playboy in 1998, he said that he “read all the stuff” printed in the papers he delivered and often dissected them to figure out how the news cycle worked.
Drudge began going through the motions of being a journalist in his teenage years. He worked on his high school’s newspaper briefly, but later admitted he “wasn’t very good” at it. According to New York magazine, he even started to wear his signature hat, an oversized fedora, in these years to “deal with premature hair loss.” But ultimately, Drudge would flounder around for another decade before actively pursuing his calling. During that time, he proved to be a bad student, frequently “forging notes” to cut classes in high school and cheating on tests when he had to. Rather than go to college, he worked in a 7-Eleven. After that, he worked in a grocery store and at 26, he landed a job working for CBS – as a manager in their gift shop.
“I really didn’t get things going until my late 20s,” he told Playboy. “I was sort of wandering around.”
Drudge had been working at the gift shop for two years already when his father decided to buy him his first computer, a Packard-Bell. It is impossible to overstate the significance of this in Drudge’s life. Drudge had always possessed an appetite for reporting, but he didn’t have the skills to pursue journalism as it was traditionally practiced. “I can’t write cursive, I print only. I’ve never done a term paper and I wouldn’t know how. I wouldn’t know how to write anything more than two or three paragraphs, little bites. If I had to actually form a story from beginning to end I don’t think I could do it,” he told Playboy. On top of that, he is a self-professed “loner” who likes to limit his interactions with the outside world, which isn’t exactly conducive to reporting.
But now Drudge was armed with a computer and even more importantly, the Internet.
According to New York magazine, “The Drudge Report began as an e-mail sent out to a few friends. Drudge’s interests were studio gossip, often plucked from trash cans at CBS, and right-wing politics.” Some of the “leads” he explored in these early e-mails included rumors that Whitney Houston was making a movie in Arizona and that Roseanne was “angry about something.” These scoops weren’t exactly earth shattering – certainly not compared to his breaking the Monica Lewinsky scandal a few years later – but The Drudge Report gradually grew by word of mouth alone. And for the next two years, he plugged away at his site, watching the readership grow, all while still working at the gift shop.
For better or worse, Drudge has confessed that everything he knows now about reporting, he’s “learned on the Internet.” He loves to break stories and influence the news cycle so much that sometimes it seems he’s making the stories up out of thin air. His site is almost entirely based on other people’s reporting and when he does uncover a scoop, it’s rarely sourced and often believed to be from tapping into another publication’s private news wire.
Still, Drudge has rightly been labeled the first major Internet celebrity and a visionary for recognizing the power of this new medium. In a speech in the late 1990’s, he anticipated the wave of bloggers to come, saying, “We have entered an era vibrating with the din of small voices. Every citizen can be a reporter, can take on the powers that be.” But it may be more accurate to say that Drudge was just lucky to be born in the Web 2.0 era. If he had grown up during any other time in history, he would never have been able to pursue his one true passion.
Image courtesy of YouTube.