Thirteen years ago, I woke up early, made coffee, and wandered into the den of our Arlington, Virginia, home to check my email. I had just returned from an overseas assignment and had a few days off.
The morning email brought a notice from PSI, my Internet service provider, offering 5 megabytes of free space for a web site. I had time to kill so I used the ISP’s form-based page builder to create a one page political newsletter and wrote a 500-word piece about the upcoming elections.
For reasons I have long since forgotten, I named the newsletter Capitol Hill Blue, sent email to a few friends asking them to check it out, and went about my daily business. Those friends sent emails to their friends and my email box contained about a dozen messages later that day. Most said they liked what they read.
The following week, I wrote another, longer, piece on the election and predicted the Republicans would take control of Congress in the November mid-term elections. The prediction was based on the gut feeling of a GOP political operative I knew.
Three weeks later, the Republicans did capture control of both the House and Senate and a political pundit on one of the Sunday talk shows mentioned that an unknown Internet political newsletter named Capitol Hill Blue had predicted the win.
Suddenly, we were a hot commodity on the then-underutilized World Wide Web. The Washington Post featured us in a story about local Internet sites and followed that up with a piece in their Fast Forward magazine. The Los Angeles Times called Capitol Hill Blue a “must read for political junkies.”
As our readership grew I went from a weekly newsletter format to a daily news site and moved Blue to a new server. By 1996, then-President Bill Clinton found himself embroiled in the Monica Lewinsky scandal and we had more fodder for news stories. A free-lance writer who worked for us as a volunteer tracked down a half-dozen women who claimed Clinton had molested them while he was attorney general and later governor of Arkansas. She also found a report from an English woman who claimed Clinton assaulted her when he was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford.
Bill Powers wrote a long piece about Blue for The National Journal. So did Felicity Barringer of The New York Times. Stephen Smith, editor of U.S. News & World Report said Blue “has caught on as an early warning sign of stories coming up.”
Those were heady days. Our readership skyrocketed from the attention and more writers signed on to help us track down stories.
We went after stories with a vengeance and, sometimes, our desire to get the scoop overshadowed our judgment. We made mistakes, big mistakes, going with some stories that turned out to be poorly sourced and based on questionable sources.
We’re not perfect. We make mistakes and when we do the responsibility for those mistakes lies with me. I own this web site, I make the decision on what stories do or do not run and I am responsible when we screw up.
But recognizing and dealing with our mistakes has, I believe, made us stronger. On this, our 13th birthday, I can look back over the thousands of stories we have published and point with pride at some of our better efforts, including:
–America’s Criminal Class, the Congress of the United States: Our series on the misdeeds and questionable antics of members of Congress;
–All the President’s Women: Our series on former President Clinton’s long history of sexual misconduct towards women;
–Underage and selling their sexuality on the web: Our expose of exploitation of teenage models on the Internet.
We were the first to report President Bush’s increasing temper tantrums and the toll it was taking on the White House and administration policy. We raised questions about the accuracy of the intelligence reports used to justify the Iraq war and printed those concerns before the war started.
The obvious observation to follow, of course, is: “Well, Doug, that’s nice but what have you done for us lately?”
In some ways the question is, sadly, “not much.” We’ve become too complacent in our news coverage, too dependent on the work on mainstream news sources and not aggressive enough in digging out the truth behind the news. That’s my fault. I’ve been distracted by other activities and a growing involvement in developing “hyperlocal” news sites in Southwestern Virginia. I’ve also gone through a number of editors in recent months, including one that just quit because he said the work load was far greater than he expected.
I’m working on some ideas for the future, including ways to involve the readers more in our news coverage. We’re looking at additional columnists and considering adding reader blogs, which would allow our readers to bring news and topics directly to other readers for information and discussion.
But I also believe Blue today offers readers a solid news package 24/7, along with on-the-point commentary from a diverse group of columnists that includes Hal Brown, a clinical social worker from Massachusetts; Phil Hoskins, a lawyer-activist in Beverly Hills and Rob Kezelis, a lawyer from Chicago. ReaderRant, our long-running and popular forum, is managed by a hard-working group of moderators and administrators.
Blue is, and always has been, a labor of love for all of us. No one hears draws a salary and our ad revenues go to charitable and not-for-profit causes. Our goal has always been to be a non-partisan source for news, commentary and political discussion.
Still, the formula that has made Capitol Hill Blue the longest-running political news site on the Internet is a proven one and one that will continue for what I hope is at least another 13 years.
Capitol Hill Blue is my child and today my child turns 13. Please join me in wishing her a happy birthday.