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Rant #223
(published April 21, 2005)
Why the "Huffington Report" Can't Work
by Fritz Swanson
Matt Drudge has, as the New York Observer notes, become the unofficial news editor of the nation. He manages the news cycle. And he is conservative. Arianna Hufington and company want to replace him with their own liberal-slanted website. But in order to defeat him, they need to understand why he succeeds. I am not persuaded that they understand.

Why does he succeed? Is it because his conservative views are just so popular that everyone turns to him for knowledge? No.

Matt Drudge succeeds because he is first and because he is comprehensive. His web site is one page, black on white, and virtually nothing but links. His website is updated second by second. He gets the news to you first, and he gets it from all over the world.

That is the beginning and the end of Matt Drudges success.

But it is not the source of his power. Matt Drudge's power builds directly on his success.

What people don't understand is that Matt Drudge is a bifurcated service. Speed and breadth are merely the platform. Conservatism is the software.

In order to compete with that, any advocacy group (regardless of political persuasion) needs to understand that simple fact. News is about being first, and about being complete.

Once you've expended the resources to maintain fast, broad coverage, you can use that platform however you like. But without the platform, you have nothing.

This is why the "Huffington Report" seems likely to fail. Beatty and company seem to think Drudge is first and foremost an ideologue, and so they imagine they should just fight him with their own ideology. But that is wrong. Matt is exactly like Harry Knowles of Aintitcoolnews.com, even though their political beliefs are usually diametrically opposed, and their coverage is different. What makes them the same is that their core principle is to get exclusive, comprehensive and complete information on the web faster than anyone else.

These guys scoop.

And scooping gives them power to push their own ideas. For Matt, that means spinning an anti-homosexual, hard-conservative partisan viewpoint. For Harry, that means pushing what he and others describe as a "geek" perspective best defined by an obsessive fidelity to source material like you see in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Neither of these guys draws power from their ideology. I read Drudge even though I detest his politics on most occasions. He is a success because so many liberals do the same as I do. And while I can agree with Harry often, it isn't always, and it isn't really the point. I read both of those sites because they reliably and quickly get me what I want: The News. They don't always spell-check their articles, and they never bottle their personality, but these things are irrelevant. Saying that I read either of those sites FOR their opinions alone, would be like saying that I read them for the typos. It's just beside the point

I read them for the scoops.

Warren Beatty is never going to scoop anyone in a million years. David Geffen is never going to scoop anyone in a million years. Scooping is hard. It has to be your life, not a hobby, or a retirement gig, or even a nine-to-five job. Hell, Drudge wields more power than most news organizations because he is committed to the work in a way, and with an abandon, that most journalist can't and won't match. Drudge lives to scoop. And without scoops to act as a news-site's engine, there won't be anything there to drive things along.

What really troubles me here is that liberalism in America seems to have been taken over by these chumps. Establishment liberals seem to think that the best way to solve any problem is through some sort of organization. It's bizzare, and reminds me of nothing else but college Co-ops where everyone gets together ostensibly to share labor, but really they all cluster together in order to avoid labor.

Sharing, in liberal parlance, has become a new way of passing the buck. They all marvel at Drudge's power, but they fail (or refuse) to match his industriousness. Beatty and Huffington and Geffen and all the rest seem to think that if they form a high powered committee, then somehow, magically, their ideas will find currency with the public and influence the national debate.

The "Huffington Report" may bloviate away with its big name liberal stars, but until it can replace Drudge as a basic, always-on utility of news, then I won't read it. And if a sympathetic audience won't read it, it by definition can't match the power Drudge has.

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