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Capitol Hill Blue is 18 years old: Que the balloons

By DOUG THOMPSON - Capitol Hill Blue
October 1, 2012

Capitol Hill Blue publisher Doug Thompson

Capitol Hill Blue was born on October 1, 1994 — a damp, cool Saturday morning in the den of a condo on North Fairfax Drive in Arlington, Virginia.

With coffee in hand, I sat down at my Mac, and logged in to PSI-Net, my Internet Service Provider at the time, which offered then lightning-fast ISDN service at 128kb.

A note on the PSI-Net homepage said the service was offering five megabytes of web space to all subscribers.  Included was a rudimentary email template package and an HTML editor.

So I wrote a 750-word essay on gridlock in Congress, noting that “if ‘pro’ is the opposite of ‘con,’ then Congress is the opposite of progress.”

I called the site “Capitol Hill Blue,” posted the essay, sent emails with links to a few friends and went on to other things.

By Saturday night, I had a dozen emails from readers who either liked or disliked the piece but all wanted to know when I was going to write something else.

From that beginning on Saturday, October 1, 1994, Capitol Hill Blue became a weekly web newsletter.  I would write a new piece on Saturday mornings, post it and send out emails.  Some readers would send links to their friends.  By the end of October, we had about 500 readers a week.

On January 1, 1995, I added news service subscriptions and some friends in the business offered to help research and write stories, so we went daily.  By the end of 1995, we had about 5,000 daily visitors and advertisers came calling.  In 1996, The Washington Post called Capitol Hill Blue “a must read for political insiders.”

Our coverage of President Bill Clinton‘s problems with White House intern Monica Lewinsky brought more attention.  Felicity Barringer of The New York Times profiled the site.  So did William Powers in The National Journal.

We won awards, got mentions.  I appeared on MSNBC and CNN.

We published series I’m proud of:  America’s Criminal Class: The Congress of the United States is a good example.  We exposed the exploitation of teenagers in Underage and Selling Their Sexuality on the Web.

And we’ve made some mistakes.  Getting hoodwinked by a source who was not who he claimed he was the most glaring example.  We learned from it and moved on.

Despite all this, Capitol Hill Blue never became a business.  It was — and still is — a labor of love.  All members of the staff are volunteers.  Some are J-School students, others are retired newsmen and women.

As such, we find ourselves competing with large, corporate-funded enterprises like Politico, The Huffington Post and the web sites of newspapers.

When we started, other political-oriented web sites did not exist.  We’ve outlasted many that have come and gone over the past 18 years.

We’re still here.

How much longer we remain is a question we face each October 1 when we celebrate our birthday and ponder the next year.

We’ve been doing this for 18 years now.  That’s a lifetime on the Internet.

We will be doing it 18 years from now?

Probably not.  I doubt I live that long.  I also have other interests:  Shooting documentaries, my original profession as a photojournalist and a demanding mistress named Harley-Davidson.

I’d like to keep Capitol Hill Blue on the web for at least 20 years and — for the moment — that’s the goal.

Today’s we’re 18.  Guess we’re not a kid any more.

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6 Responses to Capitol Hill Blue is 18 years old: Que the balloons

  1. Sandy Price

    October 1, 2012 at 9:32 am

    Happy Birthday Chief. I didn’t have the respect for this site until you came back after a terrible illness. I soon gave up many of my other sites that tried to give me many opinions on what ran D.C. They were wrong. I thought CHB was just another opinionated site until I logged in again and found the site I needed to develop my interest in politics,. I had been only a Republican until that time with a few years working for Perot. I learned that one can be a great lover of American values without being only a Republican.

    I love the idea that you are open to all ideas for the future. When both sides of the aisle fail to be our leaders, we can say so here and discuss it. That helps more than I can express.

  2. Willie Buck Merle

    October 1, 2012 at 10:06 am

    Congrats, keep up the great work :)

  3. Jim B.

    October 1, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    Congratulations to you, Doug, and to all of your exellent, dedicated staff!!

    You’ve raised this baby through the formative years and it’s now almost a young adult…It’s grown and learned and as a consequence, we, the readers have too.

    Superb site!!

  4. Danny Adams

    October 1, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    Happy Birthday from someone who’s been reading you since ’99!

  5. bryan mcclellan

    October 2, 2012 at 10:34 pm

    I revel at times, both sides of our editor and while missing the old fire I discovered a new way to find open honesty and equal retraction.
    So here we are with he said, they said, some wind bags blow mighty on election minded eons.
    When and where does sensationalism stop in the face of common sense and a populace retain their dignity Sir ?
    Why is an open untruth allowed to be repeated for effect Sir ?
    Can the press regain credibility without micro fitness of some low hanging fruit distracting, and instead find those willing to serve but for the popularity ?
    Pop said, those is chose. Happy B-day C.H.B.

    .

  6. Nevada Ned

    October 4, 2012 at 12:10 am

    Congratulations on your 18th birthday!
    And – seriously now – have a succession plan to continue CHB when Doug Thompson eventually retires.