When I started Capitol Hill Blue in the den of our home in Arlington, Virginia, on October 1, 1994, I wasn’t sure what direction what was then a weekly, one-page look at the actions of Congress would become.
By January 1, 1995, the direction was set: Blue was a daily Internet news site — the first to concentrate exclusively on news about Capitol Hill, politics and the White House.
With the help of a few friends — all volunteers — we set out to cover Washington not as partisans with allegiance to any political party or ideology but at news men and women trying to practice old-time newspaper journalism.
And, for nearly 18 years now, we have remained true to that philosophy. Other political news sites have come and gone. We remain the oldest political news site on the Internet and one of the few that tries to present news to our readers from all sides of the political spectrum.
But, as I watch the growth of purely-partisan sites on the web — as well as the dominance of partisan, personality-driven news networks on TV — I wonder if there is even a place in journalism today for non-partisan, objective reporting.
On cable and satellite TV, news is dominated by Fox on the right and MSNBC on the left. Of the top 10 news sites on the Internet, partisan sites like Fox, MSNBC, Huffington Post regularly rank in the top 5. Number 1 is Yahoo: Largely an aggregation site. The most popular blog, by far, is the left-leaning Huffington Post. Among purely political sites, Huffington Post has nearly five times the audience of Politico.
Huffington Post is now owned by AOL. Politico is a product of Albritton with a paid staff or more than 300. Neither site has ever turned a pocket but remain on the web because of the deep pockets of their owners.
Capitol Hill Blue doesn’t have a paid staff. Never has. Probably never will. Our volunteers come and go. Some have been with us for years, the newest just a few days. We’ve never turned a profit. There is no “business plan,” no long-range strategy, no goals for the future. I started because my Internet provider in 1994 offered free web space. It exists because I have been willing to make up the difference between what we collect in ad revenue and what it costs to stay on the web. Blue is big enough to require its own servers. We pay for rights to some stories and photos. Like everything else in today’s society, the costs go up, not down.
Some of the staff suggest it is time to abandon our policy of non-partisan news and join one side of the other. Readers suggest we need to rekindle the fire that drove the site in the early days.
I’m the first to admit that I no longer have fire in my belly when it comes to politics. I’ve been around it for too long, fought too many battles and made too many mistakes. I’m 64 years old and I’d rather spend my days covering real news for my local newspaper than trying to deal with the byzantine fantasy world of national politics.
But I can’t walk away from this mistress. Not yet. But I have to wonder if there is still a place on the web for old-time, newspaper-style reporting.
I’m not sure.
What do you think?