Say the words “Matt Drudge” to any political junkie and you will get one of two responses.
The first will be strong disdain for Drudge’s eponymously-named news site and its tilt toward outrageous headlines and conservative viewpoints.
The second will be sheer awe for Drudge’s continued ability to pull in massive amounts of web traffic using a site that any teenager with an affinity for the Internet could make in under 15 minutes.
No one — and we mean no one — lacks an opinion when it comes to Drudge and the Drudge Report. The combination of the controversy surrounding Drudge and his legendary reclusiveness makes it difficult to have a conversation about his influence on the culture of web journalism that doesn’t devolve into a shouting match within seconds.
But, Drudge did — and does — have an impact. So, it’s worth going back 15 years this week to a speech Drudge gave at the National Press Club in which he outlined his vision of the future of journalism.
Turns out, Drudge was right about where journalism was heading.
“We have entered an era vibrating with the din of small voices,” he said in the speech. “Every citizen can be a reporter.” Later, he added: “The Net gives as much voice to a 13 year old computer geek like me as to a CEO or Speaker of the House. We all become equal. And you would be amazed what the ordinary guy knows.”
A look back at the last two presidential elections proves Drudge’s point. The biggest story of the 2008 campaign was Barack Obama’s comments about rural voters’ tendency to “cling to guns or religion”, which was broken by Mayhill Fowler, a Democratic donor and a part of Huffington Post’s citizen journalism program. The biggest story of the 2012 campaign was Mitt Romney’s comments about the “47 percent”, remarks that were recorded by a bartender at the event for high-dollar donors.
In each case someone not traditionally thought of as a “journalist” unearthed the material. And, while the mainstream media helped turn those pieces of information into stories that drove weeks worth of news cycles, none of that would have been possible without the initial spark.
“The Internet is going to save the news business,” Drudge proclaimed. “I envision a future where there will be 300 million reporters…where anyone can report from anywhere for any reason.”
It’s hard to argue that the vision Drudge had for the news business is what the news business has, in large part, become. It’s worth watching his whole speech, which is below, not only for his remarks but for the obvious and not-at-all-disguised disdain that Doug Harbrecht, the president of the Press Club at the time, has for Drudge.