Ten years ago – October 1, 1994 – I sat down at the computer in my den and logged on to the Internet via an Internet Service Provider called PSINet on a 28.8 modem to find a message informing me they were providing subscribers 5 megabytes of server space for a “personal web site.”
“Why,” I wondered aloud on that Saturday morning in my den, “do I need a personal web site?” Most companies didn’t have web sites in those days. The only “news” site on the web was NandoNet, created by the Raleigh News & Observer.
I was hip-deep in the mid-term elections a little-more than a month away so I wrote a 750-word essay on those upcoming elections and made a wild-eyed prediction that Republicans would capture both the House and Senate and take full control of Congress for the first time in 40 years.
Then I posted it on my brand-new personal web site under the heading of “Capitol Hill Blue.” I’m sure I had a reason for the name back then but can’t remember why now. Hell, I hadn’t had my third cup of coffee yet.
I sent emails to a dozen or so friends and asked them to read the essay and comment on it. They, in turn, passed the word to others and Capitol Hill Blue was born as a weekly publication on then largely-unknown and underused Internet.
A few days later, a writer for NandoNet called and asked what on earth possessed me to predict a Republican takeover on Congress. I explained that I was – at the time – consulting with a Washington firm that handled Congressional campaigns and that our analysis of key races suggested a GOP win could happen. He thanked me and hung up but didn’t write about our prediction until after the election when the Republicans did – in fact – capture control of Congress and he admitted a guy in his bathrobe in a condo in Arlington, Virginia, predicted the win five weeks earlier in “an Internet-based newsletter called Capitol Hill Blue.”
That mention brought more attention to Blue – so much that PSINet said we consumed too much bandwidth and told me I had to move the site off their servers by the end of November. By that time, my consulting company had its own server and web site and I made Blue a subset of that site.
These were the wild-and-wooly frontier days of the Internet. Web sites were few and far between. Those that did exist looked amateurish by today’s standards. Graphics, when used, looked crude.
News sites were also hard to find. NandoNet remained a pioneer. Matt Drudge still sold T-shirts at the CBS gift shop in Hollywood. Other so-called “independent” news sites like WorldNetDaily or NewsMax would not come along until months later.
Blue continued to grow, drawing enough readers to merit mentions in computer magazines. On January 1, 1995, I decided to make it a daily online publication, adding newsfeeds from wire services along with contributions from a number of journalist friends. Lycos named us a “Top 5% of the Net” web site and NetGuide magazine featured us in a long article.
By the end of 1995 we had lots of company: Politics USA, Politics Today, etc. We continued to grow though 1996. We were profiled in The Washington Post, which called the site a “must read for political junkies” and got named a “web site to watch” by The Los Angeles Times. The growth continued and, in early 1997, I registered capitolhillblue.com as a domain and moved the site off my company server. That was also the year Bill Clinton got caught having his non-sex sex with Monica Lewsinsky and our coverage of Monicagate drew more attention and growth.
That growth brought more attention. Felicity Barringer, media writer for The York Times wrote a long article. The editor of US News & World Report called us “an early warning sign of stories that are developing.” Bill Powers of National Journal profiled the site as did a number of other publications.
In 1997, I appeared on a panel with the editor of Politics USA, a rival web site backed by The Washington Post and other big-name news organizations.
“You might as well pack it in,” he said. “We’re players here now and little guys like you can’t survive.”
Later that year, Politics USA merged with another web site which then shut down after admitting their “business model” didn’t work.
Others are gone too. NandoNet is history. So is PSINet, the ISP that gave me the first free web space that spawned Blue. Four times over the past 10 years I’ve tried to walk away from my creation. Four times I have come back.
Like it or not, Capitol Hill Blue was, is and always will be my baby. It reflects my moods, my attitudes and my changes in perspective. A group of talented friends have always stood ready to help keep it running in good times and bad. Today, a number of journalists volunteer their time to keep the news site of the site humming and other good friends work equally hard administering and moderating our growing bulletin board – ReaderRant.
Capitol Hill Blue is 10 years old today – the oldest surviving daily political news site on the Internet. Sometimes, I’m not sure if I own it or it owns me but one thing I am sure of is that we’re here to stay.
Thanks, everyone, for being part of this long, strange trip.
We couldn’t have made it without you.