The report of the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, released on May 9, provided a complex and update picture of online news reading habits, describing the ways people navigate the digital news environment.
Examining the top 25 news websites in popularity in the US, a part of the report was dedicated to how readers access news, either by going directly to a news site - which accounts for about 60 percent of the traffic - or by arriving through referral sites - which accounts for the remaining 40 percent.
It also provided analysis on the importance of Google, which is still leading as source of drive-by traffic, and the growth of Facebook as well, which is gaining more prominence.
A part of the report was dedicated also to the Drudge Report, the 14 years old website founded by Matt Drudge, which gained momentum during the Clinton presidency by revealing early news on what would become the Lewinsky scandal.
"Before Google and Facebook, an early driver of Internet traffic was the Drudge Report", the Pew's report said.
According to the Nielsen data, despite its small-scale operation, it remains an influential driver of traffic, so ranked to all but six of the top sites analysed.
More strikingly - the report continued - it ranked second or third in more than half (12), outpacing Facebook.
"While Facebook never drove more than 8% of traffic to any one site, for instance, Drudgereport.com provided more than 30% of traffic to mailonline.co.uk (the British newspaper site the Daily Mail), 19% of the traffic to the NYPost.com, 15% to Washingtonpost.com and 11% to Boston.com and FoxNews.com."
David Carr on the New York Times reflected on the news. Amy S. Mitchell, the deputy editor of the Project for Excellence in Journalism - quoted by Carr - highlighted that the Drudge Report's influence cuts across all kind of sites, from traditional news outlets to more tabloid style outlets to online-only sites.
It has no video, no search optimization and its layout is simple, resembling the one of its origins. It simply and effectively aggregates a huge amount of links: "on the Drudge Report, there is just a delicious but bare-bones headline, there for the clicking".
The reasons of its popularity then seem to be, on the one hand, a result of the power of its audience and, on the other, of Matt Drudge personal ability.
"The power of it comes from the community of people that read it: operatives, bookers, producers and politicians", said John F. Harris, the co-founder of Politico.
Drudge Report's steady influence, moreover, is first and foremost, a personal achievement, a testament to the fact that he is "the best wire editor on the planet", as Gabriel Snyder, editor for Gawker, Newsweek and now The Atlantic, described him talking to David Carr. "Matt Drudge can look into a huge stream of news, find the hot story and put an irresistible headline on it", Snyder added.
In a word, "it is, in its own way, a kind of utility, with stable traffic of about 12 million to 14 million unique visitors every month no matter what kind of news is breaking. Everyone goes there because, well, everyone else goes there", Carr wrote.
On Poynter Julie Moos analysed the stream of Drudge Report's audience during the last years. Referring to comScore data, tracked from 2007, the article note that Drudge's audience grows during the heat of campaigns and elections and diminished other times. The annual average number of unique U.S. visitors grew between 200 and 2010, with September-November 2008 being peak months (last presidential elections) and began to decline this year, the article said.
Not everyone agrees that Drudge Report still has a large influence. The Huffington Post reported a Washington Post spokeswoman telling HuffPo that the number cited in the Pew's report "is inaccurate".
"Over the last three months (February - April 2011), referrals from drudgereport.com have accounted for 2.5 percent of total referrals, nowhere near 15 percent," the spokeswoman wrote in an email. The Post relied on data from web analytics company, Omniture. It also cited data from Hitwise and comScore.
The reason for this disparity could be the different methodologies companies measuring web traffic use. All the findings show that Drudge Report can drive a great amount of traffic to washingtonpost.com, however - the article wrote - the other three companies didn't produce any numbers in the double digits, with comScore only recording about a third of the traffic reported by Nielsen.
Raju Narisetti, managing editor of the Post, first questioned the traffic number on Twitter.
Sources: PEJ Research, NYT, Poynter, Huffington Post
Graphic sources: 1. Nielsen Company and PEJ Research; 2. comScore (via Poynter)