One of the things that has always frustrated me about the Drudge Report is its lack of an archive. Every month, millions of people read Matt Drudge's dispatches, but few of these dispatches ever remain on his site for more than a couple days or so. Imagine if great portions of the New York Times, or the Washington Post, or any other major news source that reaches millions of people around the world, disappeared as quickly as The Drudge Report does: there would be an outcry from all quarters. Fans of Maureen Dowd would lament not being able to retrieve their favorite columns. Foes of Howard Kurtz would accuse him of destroying his work to avoid historical assessment of his work…
Drudge has been publishing The Drudge Report for approximately seven years now, he has filed hundreds of stories during that time, and yet as I write this there is not a single link to any of his past work on his site. How did Drudge report the attacks of September 11th? What did his famous scoop about President Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky actually say? When did The Drudge Report issue its first dispatch?
If you want answers to these questions, don't bother looking at The Drudge Report itself.
Of course, you have to cut the guy some slack. In his book, Drudge Manifesto, he writes that the Drudge Report debuted in "winter 1994." Back then, when most people had never even ventured onto the Internet, who could have predicted that The Drudge Report would ultimately become so influential and historically important? Archives were hardly a default part of online design in that era, and The Drudge Report didn't even have an on official Web presence until at least several months into its existence: it started off as an email newsletter that Drudge also posted to various UseNet newsgroups.
Still, there are plenty of sites from that era that do have archives, even though they were started by people who, like Drudge, had no idea how many readers they might attract or how long they might pursue their publishing efforts. It's easy to find the first Suck essay, for example, or Michael Sippey's first Stating The Obvious piece, or the first issue of NetSurfer Digest.
And even if Drudge didn't start out with an archive, why didn't he create one in 1996, say, when it was clear that The Drudge Report, with its thousands of email subscribers and its increasing media profile, was turning into something important? After all, it's not as if it's that hard to create an archive, and in fact, the Drudge Report has housed one since May 1999: it just happens to be devoted to the work of some woman named Deb Weiss instead of Drudge himself…
For whatever reasons, Drudge appears to prefer living in a perpetual present. Of course, that doesn't mean his past work is wholly inaccessible. The web is a parodoxical medium, extremely ephemeral but also surprisingly persistent: content disappears from its original location only to reappear elsewhere.
For example, you can now consult DrudgeReportArchives.com, which along with past dispatches, also archives "snapshots" of The Drudge Report front page, so you can see exactly what news stories Drudge has linked to on any given day.
But while DrudgeReportArchives.com is a valuable service, it's a new service, with archives dating back only to November 2001. Another source of old Drudge Reports is Wired News, which syndicated The Drudge Report from November 12, 1996 to May 29, 1997.
Alas, when Drudge's syndication license with Wired News expired, he jumped to AOL in June 1997, and AOL appears to maintain no archive of the Drudge Reports it hosted. Indeed, I wasn't even able to pinpoint exactly when AOL stopped hosting Drudge's work. A People magazine article published on December 28th, 1998, references his deal with AOL as if it's still in effect: "AOL pays him a meager $3,000 a month…" A Washington Post article published a few months later, on March 28th, 1999, references it as if it has expired: "By 1997 he was getting $36,000 a year from AOL. But Drudge's television and other deals - and new advertising on his site - have boosted his income to around $400,000." (Drudge did not respond to interview requests for this piece.)
Along with the Wired News archive, there are various other sites that archive some Drudge columns, but none that I could find that archive all of them, or even, say, a year's worth of them. Because The Drudge Report started out as an email newsletter, it's possible that there's someone out there who has a complete, or at least a nearly complete archive - I myself am proud to own a set of Drudge Reports dating from March 12, 1997 to January 10, 2000.
But these fragmentary records only deliver a part of the whole history: doesn't the famous Citizen-Journalist owe it to the citizenry to make the complete archive of the Drudge Report easily accessible? If he wants to charge for access to such an archive, fine - most publications do. But to make no archives available at all? Who does he really want to associate himself with in the long run? Venerable repositories of journalism like the New York Times and the Washington Post, or fly-by-night outfits like AOL and MSNBC.com, who apparently don't believe their past work is valuable enough to save in a comprehensive, publicly accessible archive?
Until Drudge establishes an archive of his own, the best place for dredging up early Drudge-work is Google.com's recently introduced UseNet archive. As Joyce Slaton explains in this SFGate.com piece, a core piece of the Google.com UseNet archive came from the now-defunct Deja.com, which started out as Dejanews.com in May 1995 or so and pioneered the concept of a web-based UseNet archive. The Deja.com version was a good resource, especially while it was simply Dejanews.com. (As Deja.com, it tried to transform itself from a simple, useful, narrow-focused service into an IPO-able ecommerce-oriented dot-com, and ended up messing up a good thing, at least from the user's perspective. But that's another story…)
In any case, I frequently used Dejanews.com to research stories, and once, while writing an article on Drudge several years ago (see below for a list of additional Drudgiana), I tried using it to find the historic first Drudge Report. But the Dejanews.com archive only went as far back as its own origins - i.e. around May 1995 - and all references that I had come across had suggested that the Drudge Report started slightly earlier than that. While I was able to find Drudge's classic ode to Babe the Pig and other interesting dispatches, I was pretty sure there was more material out there, just beyond the bounds of the Dejanews.com archive.
The new Google.com archive reveals that my suspicions were correct. While the Dejanews.com archive forms the Google.com UseNet archive core, Google.com archaelogists turned to many other sources to complete their version of a web-based UseNet archive - thus, theirs goes back all the way to 1981!
As I mentioned above, Drudge says that The Drudge Report began in "winter 1994." This may be true, because obviously it's possible that he emailed his first dispatches without posting them to UseNet as well. But what does the Google.com UseNet archive reveal? The earliest post from Drudge that I could find where he actually used the "Drudge Report" title is this missive from March 11, 1995:
ROCK ROCK ROCK TO THE PLANET ROCK...DONT STOP
THE DRUDGE REPORT IS REPORTING THAT:
Jerry Seinfeld is going to make $500,000 a week.................
In addition to this post, which may or may not be the first Drudge Report, the Google archive also yields Drudge's first UseNet post, which is possibly his first publicly distributed communique ever.
Here is what the nascent news revolutionary had to say in his December 28th, 1994 post to alt.sex.stories: "hello from sex drenched Hollywood"
And then, as the story developed, he offered this more comprehensive report as a follow-up on the very same day: "we are so sex drenched here in hollywood. 65% of us city dwellers have herpes."
With his punchy, economical prose and nose for a good story, was there any doubt he'd eventually go onto to greater glory?
Indeed, just a few months later, on March 9, 1995, he posted the following announcement to numerous UseNet groups: "For a free copy of the 'Drudge Report' send a request via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Report covers the Entertainment industry, Poli-Video shows (political talk shows,) Talk Radio, and a cross section of things that the editor Matt Drudge is focusing in on. This weekly report arrives on Monday and is complimented with NEWS BREAKS as they occur. Already read by key players, this tip sheet will be sure to peak your interest."
Two days later, on March 11th, he posted the Drudge Report with the Seinfeld salary scoop to over two dozen newsgroups, including alt.rave, rec.art.poems, and alt.christnet. The rest is history.
- G. Beato
The Drudge Retort: Originally published in early 1997 at enews.com
Code Red-faced: Published on September 26th, 1997, at Suck.com
Taming of the Shrew: Published on August 31st, 1998, at Suck.com
Matt Drudge, Briefly: Originally published on October 9th, 2000 in the Washington Post
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