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Ironic that when the federal government went into shutdown mode in the wee hours of October 1, Capitol Hill Blue celebrated its 19th year on the World Wide Web — continuing as the oldest continually published political news site on the Internet.
This web site began its life early on the morning of October 1, 1994, when I sat down with my first cup of coffee of the day and checked my email on the computer in the den of my home in Arlington, Virginia.
The first email came from my Internet service provider — PSI Net — informing me that I had free web space as part of the service. For the hell of it, I spent an hour composing a column entitled “If pro is the opposite of con, then Congress must be the opposite of progress.” I posted it, without a photo or any fancy design, on a simple web page with the heading: “Capitol Hill Blue” and sent out emails to some friends asking them to check it out.
A few months earlier, I had made the decision to return to journalism after more than a decade working on the dark side — five years as a Congressional staff member, then as a political operative in several campaigns and, finally, as the Vice President for Political Programs for the National Association of Realtors, which — a the time — had the largest political action committee in the nation.
My 12 years in politics had been lucrative but not satisfying. I was not happy with what I did for a living or with what I had become. Earlier that year — on June 6, 1994, I had taken the first step in dealing with alcoholism and entered AA (Alcoholics Anonymous). On June 6 of this year, I accepted a chip recognizing 19 years of sobriety.
A return to journalism marked another step in recovery. I had sold my first story and photos to the Farmville Herald in Virginia at age 12, worked full-time for the weekly newspaper in my hometown of Floyd, Virginia, at age 15 and became the youngest full-time reporter in the history of The Roanoke Times at 17.
In 1981, after 16 years as a reporter-photographer for daily newspapers in Virginia and Illinois, I took what I thought would be a short sabbatical from newspapers to work on Capitol Hill. The original plan was to spend no more than two years in Washington learning how it worked before returning to the profession I loved.
But life in Washington was as intoxicating as the booze and I stayed much longer — too long.
Capitol Hill Blue began as part of the return to writing and photography. I also worked as a “communications associate” for a consulting firm while free-lancing for newspapers and magazines. I also wrote a column a week for Capitol Hill Blue for the rest of 1994 and readership of the web site grew.
In 1995, I expanded the site and started covering news as well as writing opinions. Rajiv Chandresekaran of The Washington Post, featured Capitol Hill Blue in an article about web sites in the city and called it “a must read for political junkies.”
Blue blossomed during the Clinton Presidency, covering the Monica Lewinsky affair and was featured in a New York Times piece written by Felicity Barrenger. Another feature in The National Journal by Williams Powers brought in new readers and more attention.
We made mistakes along the way. An often-quoted source on current events turned out to not be who he claimed to be and a widely circulated quote attributed to then-President George W. Bush was based on sources who were not, as they claimed, in the room with the President at the time. We took heat for both and we deserved the criticism. I had let others do things in my name and I should have been more careful. I was wrong and apologized to readers.
My wife and I left Washington in 2004 after 23 years in the nation’s capital and moved to the mountains of Southwestern Virginia. My work in journalism continues as a contractor who writes, shoots pictures and produces videos for various media outlets.
A near-fatal motorcycle accident last fall — which came as I was returning from photographing a high school football state playoff game — took me out of circulation for several months but I am recovering.
And Capitol Hill Blue continues on, We’ve been on the Web longer than anyone covering politics. We face far more competition today with well-funded sites like Politico and others, but with luck and continued hard work we will celebrate our 20th anniversary on the Internet a year from now.