This is a story inspired by an e-mail exchange with Daily Kos' own georgia10, who was the first to suggest (to me, anyway) just what Twitter's role in recent events might mean.
Several very recent and very different news events -- the Iranian elections, the Mark Sanford story, and the death of Michael Jackson -- now raise a similar question: is the Drudge Report still the go-to online source for breaking news?
You can't have helped but notice the role that Twitter has played in the coverage of the events in Iran. And if you're a daily Twitter user, you probably got your first news of Michael Jackson's death that way.
But those events by themselves don't give us any particular reason to believe Drudge's influence is waning. Before you get to that, you have to take account of the explosion in popularity and acceptance Twitter has enjoyed among influential journalists working in the traditional media -- a story even hardened holdouts and Twitter-haters have doubtless heard by now.
That's the key factor, I think, in what I'm guessing is Twitter's eventually overtaking Drudge and robbing him of his influence. If the eyes of the journalists who drive the traditional media are getting their hottest, most rapidly-breaking news via Twitter, it could represent a sea change in how they view the news. And if that happens, it could change the way you'll view it, too.
For years, even people who hated Drudge's politics were addicted to his site because it was the fastest way to get breaking news, even if the stories he chose to cover were almost always the least substantial sort of bullshit. In particular, people whose livelihoods were wrapped up in getting the latest details on breaking stories -- including but not limited to the ranks of professional journalists -- often kept Drudge's page open on their computers all day long, using it as a pipeline for the latest infotainment, and extracting from it not only what would become the substance of the next news cycle's reporting, but oftentimes coming away with Drudge's own interpretation of events as well, and passing that on in their own reporting, whether in agreement, or at minimum as an "alternative viewpoint" that gave their stories "balance."
But if Twitter allows anyone (and everyone) to break a story, and to do it faster than Drudge can post it, that could indeed mean the beginning of the end of the Drudge era.
Imagine if the influencers who get their first reports of news through the horribly skewed bullshit lens of Drudge were liberated from that. It could potentially be a new world.
So, could it be happening? Well, it makes a hell of a lot of sense, anyway. Twitter almost forces media types who are on it to broaden their horizons, because Twitter only makes sense as an intake if you're following people in volume. And with its recent explosion in popularity, combined with the prominent role it's played in the reporting of the Iranian elections story, it's being "legitimized" among certain sectors of the elite traditional media. Even those who've previously dismissed other online sectors as flighty and unreliable (even as Drudge "ruled their world," curiously enough). The buy-in, for whatever reason, is there.
The waning of the Druge Era makes sense as part of a linear progression in decentralization of mass communications that ought to be cheered by online progressives, but not just because it may mean the end of Drudge's iron grip on the news cycle. It's cause for celebration purely because of what it may mean for the media playing field. Follow along with what I'm thinking, and keep in mind that this is a sort of early draft of this story.
First, the Internet made it possible for an outsider like Drudge to circumvent the traditional media in setting the agenda and establishing himself as a new power center, by lowering infrastructure costs as a barrier to entry into news dissemination.
Later, the community blogging model lowered barriers even further for still more outsiders to compete with new power centers, as blogs with comments and diaries gave many more individuals easy access to a web-based platform similar to the one Drudge used, in order to get their own ideas on the news agenda wider notice, but without the costs (financial and otherwise) of starting one's own blog, building an audience, etc. At that point, anyone could break news in five minutes, by piggybacking on a platform built by others (while Drudge kept his to himself).
Today, Twitter lowers the barriers to entry even further, giving millions technology that allows them to break news in ten seconds flat, with virtually no investment in time or resources.
So for that reason all by itself, I'm really loving the possibility that Twitter's moving in to take over such an important space. Still, there's room for some doubt.
Throughout it all, the hit rate on Drudge's web site has remained almost eerily consistent. But is that what you'd expect during the stories like the events surrounding the Iranian election? Well, OK, maybe not that. But the Mark Sanford story? The Michael Jackson story? A flat line? Really?
And that's not even what I'm after in this. Drudge's influence is measurable in two ways (and we'll be looking to measure it with hard numbers in the near future), both in his reach as an input into the journalistic world and in their reflection of that reach.
With that in mind, ask yourself this: In these stories in which online resources were almost universally acknowledged to have played pivotal roles (including seeing studio-sized Twitter feeds displayed on-screen in every evening's TV news broadcasts), how often did you hear Drudge's site mentioned?
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