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Breitbart.com has Drudge to thank for its success

Internet icon is sending readers to protege's Web site, boosting the news site's traffic.

Few people other than online-news junkies may recognize the name Andrew Breitbart.

But even they may be surprised to learn that the 36-year-old author and conservative commentator is the proprietor of one of the Web's fastest-growing publications, thanks in large part to his former boss and mentor--Matt Drudge.

Andrew Breitbart
Andrew Breitbart

Drudge, the Internet news icon, has been shipping large numbers of readers to Breitbart.com, a site that provides little else outside of newswire copy. Since 1998 when Drudge shook the world with his Web-based reports on former President Bill Clinton's affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, his site has attracted an enormous following. Drudgereport.com, which sees more than 3 million unique visitors a month, according to Web-tracking company Nielsen/NetRatings, is a news hub that combines original stories with links to headlines from major news outlets, including the Washington Post, the New York Times and CNN.

Drudge has shown little preference for any of the sites he links to. Until now.

Since Aug. 17, when Breitbart.com launched, Drudge has routinely posted more story links from his protege's site than any other news source. On Monday, for instance, seven of the 26 links posted on Drudgereport.com transferred readers to Breitbart.com. USAToday and the Financial Times were tied for second with two links apiece.

News.context

What's new:
A news Web site launched in mid-August by author and commentator Andrew Breitbart has rapidly grown thanks in large part to Breitbart's former boss, Matt Drudge, whose famed Drudgereport.com frequently links to Breitbart's site.

Bottom line:
Drudge is known for exposing insider deals and conflicts of interest, but he is openly supportive of Breitbart. Links from Drudgereport.com to Breitbart.com helped boost the latter site's number of unique visitors to 2.73 million in October, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

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Almost overnight, Breitbart.com went from obscurity to a site that boasted 2.64 million unique visitors in its first month of operation and 2.737 million in October, according to Nielsen/NetRatings. Breitbart.com slightly outpaced older and more established news sites, such as TheStreet.com (2.736 million) and Slate (2.726 million). The flood of traffic could mean big bucks for Breitbart if he attracts advertisers, which he says he has begun to do.

"I'm not making millions," said Breitbart, who recently co-authored the best-selling book "Hollywood Interrupted," a humorous nonfiction account on runaway depravity in the entertainment industry. "But the site has attracted attention. I have desires to expand on it slowly but surely."

There's nothing wrong with Drudge favoring one news outlet over another. And there isn't any law that prevents Drudge from sharing traffic with whomever he wants, he said, adding that he holds no financial stake in Breitbart.com nor does he receive any compensation from its founder. "In the 11 years since I started doing this, I have never owned a share of any company that I've linked to," Drudge said.

But Drudge is the newshound who earned a reputation in Washington, D.C., for exposing insider deals and conflicts of interest. For that reason, Drudge's relationship with Breitbart (pronounced Bright-bart) has raised a few eyebrows. Said one executive at a major media company, who requested anonymity to preserve his relationship with the Internet newsman: "We've noticed it and we were curious."

Drudge doesn't send readers to just any site. For several years, he didn't even link to the Web site of his own father, according to a Feb. 8, 2001, story in the New York Times. Bob Drudge, who operates Refdesk.com, a popular database of reference sources, was quoted saying: "(Matt) said he had no use for Refdesk. He hasn't got time to check things out. He's got to hop, hop, hop and move the story."

Drudge readily acknowledges that he's sending traffic to Breitbart partly because of their friendship.

"I want to help him out," Drudge said in a phone interview with CNET News.com about his former employee. "He has always wanted to do this. This is his idea and hopefully he can make a living from it."

Humble beginnings
Breitbart is a former researcher for Arianna Huffington, the former Republican congressman's ex-wife who is now a Democratic gubernatorial candidate in California. After Drudge hired him as a paid assistant, Breitbart made a name for himself as a skilled news gatherer and witty critic of left-leaning politicians and celebrities. Drudge too is considered sympathetic to the Republican party.

Breitbart surprised many fans of the Drudge Report when he agreed to help launch Huffington's Web site, which many considered to be the left's version of the Drudge Report. Nonetheless, working for the Huffington Post did not damage Breitbart's relationship with Drudge.

"I have a very good relationship with Matt," Breitbart said. "I still have daily contact with him. He is, I think, one of the Internet's top success stories."

Breitbart, who is married to the daughter of actor Orson Bean, grew up in Los Angeles. He cut his teeth in the online news business at cable channel E Entertainment Television. He worked for the company's online magazine before going to work for Huffington. He introduced himself to Drudge after reading the Drudge Report in 1995.

"In the e-mail I said, 'Are you 50 people? A hundred people? Is there a building?'" Breitbart recalled, noting that Drudge was at that time writing, editing and maintaining his site by himself. "I thought what he was doing was by far the coolest thing on the Internet. And I still do."

The two men began an e-mail correspondence and discovered that they both lived in Los Angeles and shared a passion for Web-based news. The more obscure the site the better.

It was Drudge who taught Breitbart how to run a profitable online news outlet: Do it all yourself. Breitbart works sometimes with Seth Jacobson, whom he calls a limited partner. Mostly, it's Breitbart operating the site from his Los Angeles home.

Drudge says the other reason he links to Breitbart's site is because it provides a valuable service. Almost every Internet news site offers the same wire copy as Breitbart, but many other news sites take too long to download, Drudge said.

"For the wire stories, I've always looked for places with low graphics, without a lot of spinning Java tops on them," Drudge said, referring to the programming language that powers many animated banner ads that can sometimes slow the process of downloading a Web page. "When I send my readers someplace, I want it to be convenient for them to get there."

Barry Parr, an analyst for Jupiter Research, wonders if Drudge likely grew tired of shipping readers from his site to media outlets he may disagree with politically.

That an executive at a major publication fears Drudge and that Drudge is able to create a popular news site just by posting a few links is testament to his power, and the growing influence of Web-based news. Information has become a commodity and Breitbart.com illustrates how easy it is for blogs and small Web operations to compete with major news organizations, Parr said.

"There is no reason that Drudge shouldn't send traffic to people he likes rather than people he doesn't," Parr said. "He probably likes this guy Breitbart better than some of the people from the perceived left-leaning newspapers."