Cyber-journalist got to the top through effective marketing

I'm a bit of a news junkie, and every morning over breakfast I thumb through the Gazette and The National Post. Next is The Wall Street Journal, then, when no one is looking, I finish off by browsing a gossip/news Web-site called The Drudge Report.

Founded in 1995 and run out of his $600 a month apartment on a Pentium 486 computer by cyber-columnist Matt Drudge, the publication's name only rarely appears in the same paragraph as those other esteemed news organizations.

But in spite of his modest beginnings, Drudge quickly has quickly become one of the most influential journalists in the U.S. The Drudge Report has broken a slew of news stories over the years. It was the first to report Connie Chung's departure from CBS, princess Diana's death, and Bob Dole's selection of Jack Kemp as his vice-presidential running mate in1996.

But the story Drudge is most famous for breaking is one he posted in January 1998, which stated that Newsweek magazine was holding a piece about a purported affair between president Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.

After breaking the Lewinsky story Drudge's audience skyrocketed. As of last Sunday he was claiming 36.4 million visits to his site in the previous 31 days, and 315 million in the past year.

And he is still getting scoops. Last week Drudge reported that Texas Governor George W. Bush is on the verge of selecting Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating as his running mate in the 2000 presidential contest.

You would think with these impressive results that Drudge is one of the most knowledgeable, diligent and educated journalists around. Quite the contrary. He never went to college, can barely put two sentences together, and would not know a preposition from a proposition. For all of his spectacular successes, there are an equal number of embarrassing failures.

Partly because he never went to journalism school and refuses to accept many commonly accepted journalistic standards such as requiring two sources before going ahead with a story, Drudge has drawn considerable scorn from many in the news business who say that what he is delivering is not news.

Drudge counters that there is a strong demand out there for unedited content, and that through their bureaucratic practices and conflicting ownership interests the mainstream news media is no more accurate. "Freedom of the press," he likes to repeat, "accrues to anyone who owns one."

To Drudge, the Internet is his printing press and he has parlayed his Web-site into television and radio shows, an upcoming book and appearances on the lucrative lecture circuit. To add insult to injury he now makes far more money than many in the profession that look down on him.

So how did he do it? How did he become so successful, with no education, no contacts and none of the advantages that accrue to journalists who carry press cards from the major media? Many say that it was because he was the first to publish his stories on the Internet. But that's not true, in fact there is plenty of competition on the Net, and there has been for quite some time.

Drudge got where he is today by doing good marketing. His ability to promote himself made up for all of his shortcomings in his chosen field. As many people know, the best performers in any sector of activity are not always the ones that rise to the top. For that to happen your abilities need to be widely known and then acknowledged.

Take an accountant in a Fortune 500 company. If he has an idea on how to save his company millions of dollars in taxes, but is not able to convince the vice-president of finance, then the president will never hear of the plan. Getting noticed within any company or profession, or in any organization for that matter depends on how well we market ourselves.

Drudge managed early to convince many that he was a mover in news gathering by compiling an E-mail list of mainstream journalists and sending them copies of his scoops. By doing this, as well as providing links to the sites of many of the industry's top talking heads he was basically daring them to publish the scoop as well, knowing he would get credit, as well as publicity for his Web-site.

As The Drudge Report grew in popularity over the years, tables have turned and now many in the news media give Drudge advance information on their own breaking news stories knowing that having details in Drudge Report will boost their audience the next day.

Drudge has classic marketing skills and uses sophisticated techniques seemingly without realizing it. Knowing that he would never get far competing against the major media by reporting hard news he positioned himself differently by concentrating on rumor, innuendo and gossip ­ and quickly found there was a demand for it.

With the huge traffic that The Drudge Report now gets, the reporting has gotten more mainstream and the news stories are more general interest than insider gossip. Knowing that he does not have the resources to send correspondents around the globe Drudge scans other Web-sites for good content and stories, and provides added value to his readers by creating links to these stories from his site.

So if there is say a hurricane going on somewhere, Drudge will link to a story at the CNN site. The service he provides his readers often is not so much now the scoops, but the leg work of scouring the other publications for the dirt and the sensational, and providing links to it.

Drudge, a man with so little going for him as a journalist, is now a trusted news provider for millions. That's what I call good marketing.

E-mail can be sent to Peter Diekmeyer at peter@peterdiekmeyer.com

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