A few years ago, John Harris and Mark Halperin got in some trouble for admitting that "Matt Drudge rules our world." This was a little too much truth for most, and they took a lot of heat for it. But state it more basically and most bloggers can sympathize: Links rule their world. And stories have to look different if they're going to get links.
You see that rather clearly in John Harris's new venture. The Politico is an interesting test case because it publishes both a print and an online edition, and the two are substantially different. The print edition is focused on political insiders and DC types. It's a calm and sober publication. The online edition is geared towards a more general audience. It survives on links, and thus it survives on sensationalism.
Earlier today, I said that the actual story the Politico published on Journolist was fair. Anyone reading it would have left with a pretty good idea of the list's functions and workings. It was the headline that galled: "INSIDE THE ECHO CHAMBER," it blared. The headline -- which bore little relation to the story -- worked. Drudge quickly picked it up, framing his link even further from the meat of the article and the truth of the list: "WHERE LIBS IN MEDIA GET THEIR MESSAGE: ELITE PRESS HAS SECRET LISTSERV..." It quickly filtered to dozens of rightwing blogs and got amplified to even higher levels of crazy (including my personal favorite). All these blogs, incidentally, were decrying the specter of coordinated messaging.
If you think about it, this was, in theory, a "bad" bit of sensationalism for The Politico. Since an array of Politico writers are on Journolist, this means they're part of the liberal echo chamber. Sort of gives up the game. At least, it would have been bad for the print edition, which needs to be seen as sober and impartial. But it's not bad for the online business model. The site got massive traffic. That's the lifeblood of the enterprise. As for the headline? I don't begrudge them it. It's all in the game.
As for the print edition, they published the same story under a different headline. "On the list: How bloggers, reporters compare notes."
Think Drudge would have linked to that?