Our final episode of The Distance

Stay tuned for our new podcast!

Illustration by Nate Otto

Lily Liu was 16 years old when a talent scout approached her at a department store. She started her career as a model, but found her true calling behind the scenes, first representing her three daughters and then opening her own talent agency. For Lily, who’s spent her career working for opportunities for Asian and Asian-American talent, the issue of representation has taken on a special resonance.

https://art19.com/shows/the-distance-podcast/episodes/fd5f4066-d74e-48a2-8486-de3c7808734d

This is our final episode of The Distance! Thank you for following along and sharing our stories these last few years. The episodes will remain online if you’d like to revisit them or share them with a friend who didn’t catch the show’s original run. We also hope you follow us to our new show: The Rework Podcast. Check out the teaser below and make sure to subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, or your favorite podcatcher app so you don’t miss our first episode on August 15.


Transcript

WAILIN: When Lily Liu was 16 years old, she was shopping with her mother at a department store when a talent scout approached them. Lily and her mother had recently immigrated to Chicago from Japan, and her mother didn’t speak English.

LILY LIU: The scout handed a business card to my mother and she didn’t know what it was about, so she nodded and said, “Thank you,” and that was it. There no conversation between them. My mom was always supportive with whatever I did. We decided to make a phone call, and immediately the person who gave me the card responded favorably in setting up the appointment. And from there, things changed. It was interesting because there was what was called a round sheet, a list of photographers and their phone numbers, which we don’t do anymore, and we were expected as the model to make the phone call, make the appointment, make our rounds, and introduce ourselves and hoping they would, you know, remember you.

One of the photographers that I remember said to me, “Why do you want to do this? You’re short and you’re Asian.” And it was very disappointing and I said, “Oh, I don’t know. I think it’d be fun, and it’s not something I would do as a career, but I’d like to give it a go.”

WAILIN: Welcome to The Distance, a podcast about long-running businesses. I’m Wailin Wong. It’s the fifty-eighth and last episode of The Distance. I’ll have more to say about that at the end of the episode, plus you’ll hear a teaser for the new show we’re working on, but today we have one last story about a long-running business. It’s the story of Lily Liu, a former model who today runs Lily’s Talent Agency in Chicago. She’s devoted the last 35 years to helping other people get noticed, especially people who aren’t well represented in popular culture.

MERISSA: The Distance is a production of Basecamp. I’m Merissa, a support team lead at Basecamp. Basecamp is the better way to run your business. It’s an app for communicating with people and organizing projects and work. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by email, chat and meetings, give Basecamp a try. Sign up for a 30-day free trial at basecamp.com/thedistance.

WAILIN: So Lily Liu, at 16 years old, had just been asked by a photographer, “Why would you want to be a model if you’re short and Asian?” She said it seemed fun and she wanted to try it.

LILY: It was an honest answer and a couple days later, he actually gave me a phone call and said there was a client of his who was looking for an Asian model for the cover of a hair magazine. Evidently, this client had been looking all over for an Asian woman with a certain face and length of hair that he thought would be perfect. And so I went to the place and he came in and he said, “Oh, you know, your hair is much too long. I want someone with chin-length hair.” And I said, “You want me!” Because that’s exactly what I have.

WAILIN: That’s when Lily took off the wig she was wearing, and her natural length was just right.

LILY: That was actually my first job, and it turned out to be a big job because it was the cover of a magazine. The agency was really pleased with how quickly things started moving for me that she signed me up as an exclusive talent and that was it. They all asked me—I’m too short to be a model. I explained, “I can make everything else around me look larger.” I did a lot of electronic things, like I would sit next to a TV or stand next to a TV or furnitures. I was always the girl for the Sealy mattress. I did a lot of hair magazines, I did a lot of hair products like L’Oreal. When I started modeling, I was the rare Asian model. I was with models who were tall and thin and blonde and blue eyes. To me, they were just gorgeous. I think when I saw them, I started losing confidence with myself. I’m wondering, why did they select me for this role when I’m actually modeling with all these beautiful models? And they were quite successful because they had portfolios and they came even from all over the country.

WAILIN: This was the 1960s, and there weren’t a lot of women that looked like Lily. This created an additional challenge in an industry that could already be pretty cruel, as Lily found out when she competed in a pageant called Miss Photo Flash.

LILY: I was the top ten, but I was also the shortest. And one of the things that we had to go to was doing some interviews, and my language was really poor. It was all broken English and so I couldn’t communicate well. Whatever answer that I responded probably didn’t translate in the correct way so I got that rejection, but it wasn’t just that. Some of the girls in the top ten made a comment to me about my nationality because I’m Chinese and Japanese, so they were calling me names and said something that was very political and that I got it for whatever reasons. And I found that to be very hurtful. Though at the same time, there was one special girl, I think she was also top 10—didn’t make it but, she came to the side and she comforted me. And she said, this girl has a reputation of putting everybody down.

As far as the rejection for me, I think I’ve learned to toughen up because when I came to this country, I was bullied by other kids. I had to stay strong. On the first day of school, I was running to make I wasn’t late and I fell flat on the cement and my face was scraped with all these scratches and when I went home, my mother always believed Vaseline was miracle, like miracle cream, so she put Vaseline all over my scratches and told me I needed to walk to school because education was very important in my culture. So I went the first day of school with Vaseline and scratches all over my face and I think that started the bullying. I think the kids looked at me differently. It’s so hurtful when kids are looking at you, not just because you’re Asian, different, shiny face, scratches, can’t speak the language. They would call me FOBs, fresh off the boat, go back home, go back home. And these were kids that would tell me in school and I would be so sad. And I didn’t even know what FOB meant at the time. I went home and then I was explained why. So it was hurtful. I had two brothers who were always protecting me and making sure when I would go home crying, they would stay after school and they would have a confrontation with those kids who bullied me. I think I grew up feeling like there are people like that, so if they’re mean to you, it could be not a rejection on yourself, but they have the problem. I remember when I started the business, being an Asian and female owner, there were a lot of comments made that I didn’t have the experience to start a talent agency. And I think I used that and said, you know what? I’m gonna make it. I take it as if that I want to show them I’m not gonna give up.

WAILIN: Lily modeled through college and the early years of her marriage. She booked a national commercial for Jovan perfume and used the money from that gig to pay for their honeymoon. But she was realizing that she didn’t want to be in front of the camera anymore.

LILY: There were so many models that I thought, they should do this with their hair, they should do this with makeup. When I started modeling, I was 16. I think by the time i was 23, I wanted to be behind the scenes. I wanted to be an agent. All the pageant people, they would come to me, asking me to teach them to walk, and their makeup, and what dresses they should select. In the pageant world, people talk and they’ll say, “You’ve got to take a little private class from Lily. She doesn’t charge much, she’ll do the best she can to at least place somewhere in the top placement.”

WAILIN: And then Lily had her first child, a daughter. She started modeling at just three months. Then came two more daughters, and Lily started them in the business even earlier, as newborns.

LILY: It got to be a point where they would all get bookings on the same day, and it would be not necessarily all in the same place. The clients were so nice, they got to know me really well enough. They’ll say, “Just leave the kids—your kids are well behaved and just come right back,” so I would leave more the older kids that I knew would be okay, but they were friends with the stylists and the art directors and the photographers. It was like a family. At that time, you could do that. Nowadays, we discourage parents from bringing additional kids unless the clients request for them.

WAILIN: Managing her children’s careers gave Lily enough of a foundation to start her own agency in 1982. And although it had been decades since she booked her first modeling job, there still weren’t that many Asian faces in print ads or television commercials, let alone pop culture like TV and film. Lily saw it as her job to recruit more diverse talent.

LILY: When my kids were born, you still didn’t see a lot of Asian models, so whenever they wanted an Asian model, they knew: Call Lily. And I would be on set and I would meet other models and they would say, “Do you accept other people, other models? And I said yes. That’s how my portfolio grew, starting with my three daughters in the business, and then growing because I was in an environment where I would meet other models and I would end up representing them. Having Asian models in the business was very difficult. And when I started this business, I actually had my mentality focused in saying, “Well, you know what? It was a success for myself and my daughters. I’m going to represent and brand myself as an agency having the most Asian models.” I knew better that I couldn’t just stick with Asian models because you know, obviously they’re not going to be booking Asian models every day, so of course I had others, but I wanted to make sure that all the Asian communities, or at least majority of the Asian communities, knew I had an agency and that my goal was to try and get as many qualified Asians on my roster. And then eventually I developed my agency as the best child agency so I started representing the children and then from there, I started to focus on adults and now, we have about 50/50 adults and kids.

I really I hope that I made a difference because I think when they needed Asian talents, before they couldn’t get it in Chicago, so they would end up flying in models from LA. A lot of that happened, even New York. But now I think I made a difference in that, if there was a Chicago casting or Chicago booking, they can go to Lily’s and book the Asian kids or Asian models because I had so many of them and if I didn’t, I would go to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce or I would contact my friends in the community, they would have a bunch of kids. It’s the resources that you know. You make sure that you have enough for the demand. And that’s what happened. I remember one time I needed senior citizens, so I went to the Chinatown and they had a senior citizen home and they needed about a dozen Chinese ladies for this one booking and they said, “We don’t know how to get a ride there.” So I with my friends, we picked them up at the center and we brought them and we filled out the voucher. And they didn’t understand about the payment schedule, that they get paid after we get paid, so I just went ahead and paid them, you know, minus our agency fee, and they were so happy. And any time they needed Asian senior citizens, they knew they can contact me and I would go straight there to the senior citizen home. And they were all so happy because they would be made up with their makeup and the hair and beautiful. And I would always ask them, “Do you mind getting a little Polaroid snapshots of them? Because you’re making them so happy.” And so they would get this Polaroid picture, and I don’t know if it was really the money or the Polaroid they were really so happy about, but it really made a difference to them.

WAILIN: Lily’s Talent Agency has been around for 35 years now, placing kids and adults in commercials, print ads and voiceover parts. Thanks to an uptick in TV shows being filmed in Chicago, like Empire and Chicago Fire, there are more opportunities now for local actors. Even so, her experience in the industry shows that when it comes to media representation, progress is incremental. Here’s just one data point from Hollywood: The movie The Joy Luck Club, based on Amy Tan’s novel about four Chinese American women and their mothers, came out in 1993. There has not been a major studio-backed live-action movie with a majority Asian American cast since then. And even when there are parts for actors or models of color, there can be pitfalls. Remember that Jovan perfume commercial that Lily booked when she was a college student? Here’s the part she was cast for.

LILY: I was supposedly the concubine of this man, an Asian man, but when a man at that age wears that musk, Jovan musk for male, they can get this beautiful lady.

WAILIN: It’s less likely that you would see that kind of concubine storyline in a TV commercial now — and if you did, it would probably be met with a barrage of Internet outrage and public shaming, So maybe that’s progress. But every once in a while, Lily’s actors encounter situations where they’re not comfortable, and it’s her job to look out for their interests.

LILY: I had a Japanese actor confirm a booking, but when he realized the script was actually mocking the Asian culture and delivering with the heavy accent—which was not a problem, but when it’s mocking and putting down in a very negative way, even though the money was there, he said, “You know, I’m sorry. I didn’t receive the script before. It was very general. I apologize.” We understood, I mean, you know, and we explained that to the casting agency and I’m sure that it went to somebody else, because it was part of the script, but certainly our actors do tell us, so they will come back and report to us what’s actually happened and if they’re not comfortable. Or if it’s a scene where their child is in and there’s a lot of profanity involved, the parents would say, “You know, I’m sorry, but this is not something that I would be comfortable with my children.” And we have to really respect them because if we don’t, they’re not gonna do a good job and it’s not what the casting director wants anyways.

WAILIN: There’s an old Hollywood cliche, never work with animals or children. Lily took on the challenge of representing children because she believed the industry needed more models that looked like her daughters. Today her agency is so well-established that aspiring talent come to her seeking representation, but Lily still likes to approach strangers while she’s grocery shopping or eating out.

LILY: I actually had a situation a couple weeks ago, when I was at a restaurant with my family and I saw this really good looking guy with a very nice-looking date or whoever it might have been. But it was the guy that I was interested in so it was awkward, but my daughter and my grandsons, they were saying, “Go ahead, Paw Paw.” Paw Paw is grandma in Chinese, and so I went to the table across and I said hello to the lady first and I said, “Excuse me, I have a talent agency and right now we’re scouting male models with his type of look. Do you mind if I gave my agency card? I’m here with my grandsons and my daughter.” And I pointed to her. She said, no, not a problem, and I gave it to him. But I think it’s always important, when you’re making the introduction, that you respect the person they’re with so that she’s not looking down and thinking, well why didn’t I get the call? Now, I haven’t gotten a call yet. But it’s something I do all the time, is scouting. If I go grocery shopping, if I’m at any activities, I always have my business cards and I’m passing them out because you never know

WAILIN: The Distance is produced by Shaun Hildner and me, Wailin Wong. And I like I mentioned earlier, this is the last episode of The Distance. We’re launching a new show called Rework, which will broaden the scope of the stories we tell. On The Distance, we featured businesses that have been running for 25 years or more without taking outside investment like venture capital. A lot of the business owners we profiled also talked about stuff like growing slow and staying small, so we wanted to do a show looking at some of those principles too. We’re going to play a teaser for Rework after this episode, so please check that out, and make sure to subscribe to Rework on Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, or wherever you listen.

We’ve had an amazing time making The Distance and I wanted to say a big thank you to all the business owners that shared their stories with us. Everyone was so generous with their time and we learned a lot from them. Also thanks to Nate Otto for doing our illustrations and to all of our listeners for your support. I loved reading your emails and tweets and meeting you in person. And to everyone who wrote in with suggestions of businesses to feature on The Distance, I put them all in a Google spreadsheet and I’m sorry I couldn’t get to them all. You might still hear some of them on Rework, so stay tuned. And now, here’s a preview of Rework, the new show from Basecamp.

Google won’t be able to resist listening in on your conversations

Mr Algorithm is always listening

The advertising trial balloon from Google Home really shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone. Okay, perhaps, the linguistic contortions performed by Google’s PR rep to The Verge should have raised an eyebrow. I mean just listen to the bullshit drip from this one:

This isn’t an ad; the beauty in the Assistant is that it invites our partners to be our guest and share their tales.

But the fact is that Google is an advertisement company. That’s how they make their billions. By selling you to companies who’d like you to buy their stuff. And that process is made much more efficient if Google can sell not only your profile, but your context to these advertisers. Google Home is irresistibly good context.

So this trial balloon of sticking ads in your daily briefing really is just that. Google’s follow-up statement went with as much: “We’re continuing to experiment with new ways to surface unique content for users”. Oh how lovely, how helpful!

Look. Online advertising and privacy has always been at war. Listening in on your conversations because you placed an always-on microphone in your home is just the next obvious hill to capture. Google has already normalized reading your emails for context-aware advertisement. Listening to your dinner conversations is just a natural jump.

In a year’s time, we’ll probably be hearing just how much Google is able to DELIGHT their users by serving up purchase recommendations ten minutes after that dinner. Did someone talk about desert? Ben & Jerry’s can deliver by drone now! It’ll be on your doorstep in 30 minutes if you buy now.

Welcome to the present.

Why I stopped paying attention to industry news

A couple of years ago, I did an experiment: I kicked sugar for three months. I’d have whatever naturally occurred in foods, but I wouldn’t eat anything with added sugar. The goal wasn’t to eat like this forever. I just wanted to know what it felt like to get all that sugar out of my diet. How would I react? What would be different? Would I like it?

The short answer: I felt great. I had way more energy, more balanced days, better mental clarity. But the most surprising outcome came when I reintroduced extra sugar into my diet. During the sugar fast, I wasn’t eating apples, but I tried an apple again. And wow, did I feel it. A sugar high from an apple? That was an eye opener. Even today, with my just-a-tad-of-sugar diet, I can feel the effects of the sweetener in ways I never could before.

I realize this isn’t a health magazine — so why am I talking about sugar? The food detox inadvertently got me to try cutting back on something else I was unknowingly overdosing on: industry news.

Up until about a year ago, I read industry news religiously. I’d load up Hacker News a few times a day, clicking away on the top-voted stories. I’d head over to Reddit and do the same thing on its tech-news subreddit. If I saw something on Twitter linking up a tech-news story, I’d be all over it. Clickity, click click click. I was a tech-news binger.

Then, last summer, I stopped. Cold turkey — just like when I stopped sugar. I had just reached the point at which I could feel an unhealthy level of toxicity piling up inside of me. I felt myself getting too involved, too absorbed, and a bit too anxious about what I was missing, and about what I knew or didn’t know, but thought I should know. I was checking Twitter too often and reloading sites too often. If someone told me about something I hadn’t heard of, I felt like I should have already known about it. Industry news was becoming an addiction.

The first couple of weeks after I cut the cord were challenging. My mind was craving the latest on tech as if it were a substance. While I could steer clear of the tech-news sites, it was difficult not to get hit by friendly fire. I was still on Twitter reading non-tech banter, but then a tech story would suddenly appear in my stream and that uneasy feeling would strike.

Finally, after a few weeks, I began not to miss the news. Whenever I’d see a headline on Twitter, or see people I follow chatting about some new company or technology, I felt a little disgust. It was similar to how I had felt when I saw people gorging on decadent desserts after I’d kicked sugar: It made me sick. So I came up with a new ritual. Every time friends tweeted about tech, I’d use Tweetbot to mute them for 30 days. Eventually my stream was cleansed of all the content I was trying to avoid.

The incredible thing is that a few months into the industry-news detox, I felt better not only mentally, but physically, too. My mind wasn’t on edge, waiting for the next big thing to hit. I was calmer, I found myself with more time, and I was far more focused on stuff I could control, like my product, my company, my person, rather than stuff I couldn’t, like the next “Basecamp killer” or some hot new startup.

It’s now a year later and I still don’t read industry news. Sometimes I’ll accidentally run into it. Sometimes someone will mention something to me wondering whether I’ve heard of it. I’ll often say no and ask for details. And then he or she will tell me about it in a way that’s actually useful, not sensationalized, as most coverage of new things is. I don’t feel disconnected. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s no longer just empty calories: I eventually hear about what’s really important.


Originally published in Inc. Magazine.

Be sure to check out what we’re up to over at Basecamp.

Disruption is better when it’s other people’s jobs

Many writers and publishers are freaking out after Apple opened Safari to ad blockers in iOS9. Ad blockers have been around for a long time, but the fear is that this is the move that will take the concept mainstream.

That fear appears well justified. The App Store’s charts have been dominated by ad blockers since the release of iOS9 last week. Currently, the #1 paid app is Crystal, an ad blocker, and so is #3, Purify. Clearly some pent up demand.

Another data point is the following poll from The Verge. It was setup with an almost satirically over-the-top slant, and yet readers pummeled them:


It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it — Upton Sinclair

The prevailing response from the media business to this challenge is hysteria: The World Of Journalism As We Known It Is About To End.

It’s easy to make fun of such a frantic response. Just like it’s easy to make fun of French farmers driving their tractors into Paris to rebel against new environmental standards and falling prices. Or — it’s always the French, isn’t it? — French cabbies blocking Uber drivers at the airport.

But I think more than a little empathy is in order. The natural response to having your livelihood threatened is universally to FREAK OUT. It doesn’t matter if you’re a French farmer or cabbie or if you’re an internet writer or publisher.

Parallels in movies and music

In 1982, the movie industry infamously went before congress to involve them in a fight against the perceived threat of the VCR:

I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone… The investment of hundreds of millions of dollars each year to produce quality programs to theaters and television will surely decline.

Consumers are going to stop going to movie theaters, or they’ll skip over commercials on broadcasts, and the entire industry is doomed! Ring familiar?

Fast forward to 2014: The movie industry just set another revenue record. Despite VHS, despite torrents, despite Chinese bootlegs.

But the movie and TV industry has indeed made great changes since 1982. Customers wanted to enjoy movies and TV shows without commercials. From their home. On demand. And when the industry woke up to the futility of first blaming, then suing their customer base, they found a big market just waiting to pay for their creative output (oh, and the public never did stop going to the cinema either).

Another parallel is the music industry. MP3s and Napster caused similar consternation in the early 2000s (and the cassette player before that). Nobody was going to put out music anymore in this new world of flippant piracy!

Yet here, unlike the movie business, there actually was shrinkage of the overall market. From 2002 to 2014, the US music industry went from $25 billion to $15 billion.

So one story of better than ever results, another story of shrinking results. Such is the nature of business! If you believe that you’re somehow morally entitled to an ever-increasing industry pie, reality is going to be a merciless teacher.

Disruption

The lesson to take away from disruption, beside that it’s better when it happens to other people, is not “everything is going to turn out as well as today or better”. Rather, it’s that fighting what consumers want is a losing battle. Blaming them or shaming them doesn’t work. Those are merely stalling tactics — a way to cope with the pressure and anxiety of not knowing what tomorrow is going to look like, or whether you’re still going to have the same job you do now.

The sooner you stop fighting the present, the sooner you can get to work on figuring out the future.

People are spending more time reading online than ever. If the written media business can only see a dichotomy between “we must have privacy-invasive trackers along with bandwidth-hogging and overlaying full-size ads” and “death”, they’re just not looking hard enough. But that’s okay: YOU’RE FREAKING OUT. It’ll pass, or at least recede, and you will come to your senses.

Pendulums

The pendulum had swung too far. Publishers had abdicated far too much responsibility for the user experience and privacy concerns of their readers for too long. The ad pushers grabbed that opening and cranked the nasty to 11. There was bound to be a reaction. This is it.

It’s a soothing story to blame Apple, pin them with a motive of treating journalists and publishers like collateral damage in a war against Google. But there’s an easier answer: It’s simply better for Apple’s customers!

(Remember reader mode in Safari? Hiding all the ads, reformatting the text? Same motivation, no complaints from the industry because it still loaded the ads, so even if readers never saw them, they still counted.)

Anyway, the proof is in the App Store chart pudding! Customers are flocking to pay for a solution that restores some sanity to their mobile browsing experience.

You can cry about it, you can stomp your feet, you can call Apple and readers mean names, but the ice cream isn’t going back on top of your cone. Take a few weeks to grieve, then get on with the mission of figuring out how the written word carries on without shoving intrusive ads down readers’ throats.

You can do it.


Check out what we’re up to at Basecamp.com.

Why the Drudge Report is one of the best designed sites on the web

Here are a few reasons, in no particular order, why I think The Drudge Report is one of the best designed sites on the web.


Staying power

People talk about timeless design all the time. But most things people point to that are timeless end up being time stamped. The Drudge Report, on the other hand, has proven timeless. It’s generic list of links, black and white monospaced font, and ALL CAPS headlines have survived every trend, every fad, every movement, every era, every design do or don’t. It doesn’t look old and it doesn’t look new — it looks Drudge. It hasn’t changed since at least 1997, and I believe the design goes back even further. How many sites can survive — and thrive — unchanged for a decade? That’s special.

It’s straightforward

There are no tricks, no sections, no deep linking, no special technology required. It’s all right there on one page. “But it’s a mess!” you could say. I’d say “it’s straightforward mess.” I wouldn’t underestimate the merit in that.

It’s unique

When you’re on the Drudge Report you’re on the Drudge Report. There’s no question where you are. The design has become iconic. How many other news sites can claim that? If you pull the logo off some of the other major news sites/networks (CNN, MSNBC, FOX News, ABC News, CBS News, etc.) you may have a hard time distinguishing them from one another. They all sorta blend into the same standard news-site look and feel. There are a few standouts, but even the NYT and the WSJ aren’t that unique. Drudge’s design stands alone.

This is important

Many news sites have lost their guts. They’re afraid to really call out one big story. They may have a leading headline, but it’s not all that obvious or different from the others. It may be a font size or two bigger, but it’s not confident. They hedge. Drudge, on the other hand, says “this is the story of the moment” with a huge headline. This is what’s important in the news right now and nothing else even comes close. Drudge isn’t afraid to be an opinionated editor and his site design perfectly emphasizes that. It’s bold, it’s risky, and it’s pure Drudge design.

It’s good cluttered

The Drudge Report usually leads with a “font size=+7” ALL CAPS headline in Arial. Sometimes it’s italicized. Sometimes, for something big big, he’ll cap it off with the infamous siren.

The infamous Drudge siren.

After that you have three columns. Some headlines are sentence case, some are ALL CAPS. Some have photos, some are just a plain text headline. Sometimes more controversial or sensational headlines are colored red. There’s usually a big ad at the top and a few other ads sprinkled among the columns.

Stories aren’t grouped or organized except probably more interesting ones up top. And that’s it. Your eye darts all over the place looking around for something that looks interesting. The design encourages wandering and random discovery.

The site feels like a chaotic newsroom with the cutting room floor exposed. I think that’s part of the excitement — and good design.

Breaking news is breaking news

Have you seen “breaking news” on MSNBC or CNN lately? Almost anything can pass for breaking news now. “So and so speaks to the press about this or that” is now breaking news. Breaking news used to mean something seriously big and important or spectacular just happened. But the major news sites have watered it way down. When I hit MSNBC or CNN, and they have a “breaking news” bar (red/yellow usually), it’s easy to ignore because they’ve cried wolf one too many times. But when you see a big honking red ALL CAPS headline with the flashing siren on Drudge, you know it’s newsworthy.

One guy can run it

The site is run by Matt Drudge full time with help from an occasional part-time contributor. If the site was 5 pages or 10 pages or 30 pages, he’d likely need additional people and technology to manage it all.

No news is the news

The Drudge Report is a headline site. There’s no “content” on the site. Yet, that’s news. The headlines themselves can be news. Drudge breaks stories without writing stories. In fact, The Drudge Report may be one of the only sites on the web that can break a story with just a headline or a photo. That’s baked right into the design.

It sends people away to keep them coming back

There’s actually no content on the Drudge Report. Well, sometimes he will post an email or a memo on his site, but it’s 99% links out to other news sources. His site is designed to send you away to bring you back. The more often you hit his site to go somewhere else the more often you’ll return to go somewhere else again. You visit the Drudge Report more because you leave the Drudge Report more. This is one of the secrets to building traffic: The more you send people away the more they’ll come back.

It’s fast

When you visit The Drudge Report, you get the Drudge report. There are no interstitial ads. There’s no load time. There’s no buffering. There’s nothing but instant content. The Drudge Report is Google-fast and Craigslist fast — quite a feat for a site that does 3,000,000 uniques a month run by one guy.BTW: Those 3,000,000 uniques a month translate into hundreds of millions of visits a month (source: CNN).

It’s cheap to maintain

The design of the Drudge Report doesn’t require a fancy CMS or, in fact, anyCMS at all. It’s edited by hand. His overhead is probably a couple grand a month max. A few thousand bucks a year in overhead that generates a few million a year in revenue. That’s good design.

It’s one page

The Drudge Report is one page. Every visit and every visitor is focused on that one page with a headline and three columns. He knows exactly what people are going to see, he knows exactly how people are going to see it. There’s no mystery page here that hasn’t been redesigned or mystery page there that’s throwing an error. It’s one page to look at at one page to work on. It is what it is. It doesn’t try too hard to be something it’s not.

It makes him a great living

Based on published ad rates and traffic numbers, it’s estimated that Matt Drudge makes “over a million a year.” Not bad for a single black and white page on the internet.

So these are some of the reasons why I think The Drudge Report is one of the best designed sites on the web. Swing away.