Capitol Hill Blue turned 15 Thursday, continuing our position as the oldest political news site on the Internet.
Blue was born on Oct. 1, 1994, as I sat in our den in Arlington, Virginia, and read that my Internet service provider at the time was offering 5 megabytes of free web space to subscribers.
Not one to question a gift, a wrote a 500-word screed about the political situation in Washington at the time, posted it with rudimentary HTML, and called it “Capitol Hill Blue.”
I’ve long forgotten why or how I came up with that name. Maybe it had something to do with the pornography of politics. I had left the political world two years earlier and was working, at the time, as “senior communications consultant” for a “strategic business communications” firm, which was a fancy way of saying we helped businesses in trouble try to contain the damage.
Blue began as a weekly, one page commentary. I emailed friends and asked them to check it out. They emailed others and our readership grew, outgrowing the space and bandwidth offered by my ISP.
In January, 1995, I leased web space and registered my name as a domain name with Blue as a sub-domain under that URL. In 1996, I decided to go from a weekly roundup to a daily compilation of news and commentary and registered “capitolhillblue.com” as a domain.
The Washington Post profiled area web sites a year later and called Blue a “must read for political professionals.” Reviews followed in The Los Angeles Times and computer magazines. In 1999, Felicity Barringer, media writer for The New York Times quoted a U.S. News & World Report editor who called us “an early warning system” for news.
Our reputation grew. So did my ambition and arrogance. We uncovered some good stories but we also made some stupid, boner mistakes. Two sources we used for stories turned out to not be who they claimed to be and we paid the price that that mistake. My own arrogance became an issue with some readers. More than once, I walked away, turning the site over to others.
But I always came back. Blue has been part of my life for 15 years now and will be for a long as I’m able to run it and keep it on the web.
For a while, we had the political news market on the Web pretty much to ourselves. Competitors came and went. We outlasted many who launched with great fanfare and later quit.
Now, the market is glutted. Small, independent news sites like Blue are rare. The field is dominated by sites like Politico, The Huffington Post and others backed by deep-pocketed venture capitalists and corporations. They have large, paid staffs and glitzy headquarters. We have my office in our home now in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwestern Virginia and a core group of dedicated volunteers scattered around the country who work without pay to keep this site going.
Our volunteer columnists and ReaderRant moderators do the real heavy lifting around here. I’m the landlord who keeps looking for ways to keep the site fresh and true to its original mission as a non-partisan political news site that plays no favorites and takes no prisoners.
As a journalist who returned to newspaper reporting and photography a few years back, I’m still driven by legendary Chicago journalist Findley Peter Dunne’s belief that the “role of a newpaperman is to comfort the afflicted…and afflict the comfortable.”
As a publisher, I remember a line from one of my favorite movies: Citizen Kane. At one point, Walter Thatcher, the banker who managed Charles Foster Kane’s affairs, asked the then-young publisher: “Is this any way to run a newspaper?”
Responded Kane: “I don’t know how to run a newspaper. I just try everything I can think of.”
We’ve been doing it that way for 15 years now. With luck, and the support of readers and the hard-working volunteers here, we hope to keep doing it for at least 15 more.