Is Matt Drudge the New Moses?
History is filled with hype; it is every era's conceit to think that hype
is its unique creation. But hype, or the creation of excitement and drawing
of a crowd to that which doesn't quite deserve it, is undergoing a unique
Television diva Oprah Winfrey decries Jerry Springer's obscenities; she
boldly predicts it's only a matter of time before live sex acts are put
on TV. Oprah must be too busy counting her money to enter the computer age;
live sex acts are now available 24 hours a day on my computer screen, which
doesn't seem very different from my TV screen these days. Has Oprah missed
the hype of the World Wide Web?
Southpark, the children's vulgarityfest on the Comedy Central Network,
has ratings to rival some broadcast television programs, thus obliterating
the old distinction between the broad audiences of over-the-air television
versus the supposedly tiny, narrow audiences of cable TV. New media rule:
If you build it funny, vulgar, obscene, or interesting, hype will follow
and audiences will come.
Towering intellectuals from earlier in the century like Jean Paul Sartre
or Norman Mailer (yes, I know Norm isn't dead, but he doesn't cut as wide
a path as he used to) were brilliant writers of course, but they were also
genius public relations experts capable of generating hype for anything
they did, wrote or said.
The difference is that you used to have either money, or power or genuine
talent, or the ability to cultivate those who did in order to generate the
hype that would get you into the mainstream media that could create fame
and fortune. Now, for the first time in history, that is no longer the case.
The sheer desire to spread hype is enough; just ask cybergossip Matt Drudge.
I will critique Drudge's ethics and tactics another day, but he must be
held in awe for rewriting the laws on how information spreads in a free
society. I'm no Drudge supporter, but there is something fascinating about
a guy with nothing but a job in a gift shop and an inexpensive computer
creating a forum with an audience larger than thousands of TV and radio
stations and not a few major networks.
Media gatekeepers who 25 years ago reviewed George Will's grades at Oxford
and Princeton before making him a star are now powerless to make or break
a Drudge. For anyone who claims not to be an elitist, can this development
be all bad?
Drudge is now an established star, with his own TV show on the Fox News
Channel and radio show on the flagship ABC radio station in New York City
(yes, I'm insanely jealous!), but Drudge's power base is his simple web
site. If he loses his network gigs tomorrow, Drudge will still be with us.
The millions he claims visit his web site every month (yes, I must sheepishly
admit that I am one) give him editorial clout, as well as economic power
(a click is a click is a click on the Internet and all visitors are gold
to advertisers). And all of this for a couple of hundred dollars a year
for the web site, less than the cost of one round-trip ticket to attend
a protest march in Washington, D.C.
Drudge has become widely hated by those who consider themselves liberals,
progressives, and members of the Left (with good reason). But properly considered,
he is a Moses, who has unwittingly led the way for all those looking for
an escape from the capital-intensive, pro-big corporate, Disneyfied media.
Be interesting, be free, be topical, be first, be fearless, and you too
could have a million followers, or at least visitors.
Creating worldwide hype has always been costly; now it can be manufactured
and distributed for virtually nothing. Alchemy is possible when the end
result needn't be anything as tangible as gold or even paper. Hence, trillion-dollar
Internet stocks that did not exist five minutes ago.
The central question for media and democracy: Will there be new Drudges
of the Left, Center, and Right who can engage people and build mass audiences
without calling their ideological opponents, liars, rapists, and murderers?
TJ Walker is a columnist, web publisher (www.tjwalker.com) and television
commentator. Walker is also a speaker and conducts media workshops. He can
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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