Reporting political news for 25 years

With too many things happening Tuesday, I let a 25th anniversary recognition go unmentioned.

No, not our wedding anniversary.  Amy and I will celebrate 40 years as man and wife in December.

Oct. 1 is another anniversary — the birth of what is now the oldest continually published political news website on the internet.  My website. Capitol Hill Blue.

Twenty-five years ago Tuesday, I wandered into the den of our condo in Arlington with the first cup of coffee of the day  and logged onto our internet service provider: PSINet, one of the first “commercial” ISPs.  The login screen informed me that the company was providing 5 MB of free webspace for any use I wanted.

I thought about and wrote about 500 words about the sorry state of government and political activity and created a site with the name of Capitol Hill Blue.  I think the name came from a statement by a member of Congress who said the political situation in Washington at the time was “legalized pornography.”  A raunchy TV cable show called “Midnight Blue” came to mind and the name, Capitol Hill Blue, was born.

I posted links to Blue on emails sent out to friends and acquaintances.  They spread the word and we were getting thousands of visits a day by the end of 1994 for what was a weekly column about Washington politics.

So I changed the format to daily with updates throughout each 24 hour period.

News sites were also hard to find in 1995. NandoNet, a creation of The Raleigh News & Observer in North Carolina, tried to become a political news source but 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 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 about Capitol Hill Blue on March 9, 1999.

She reported:

The rash of telephone calls started coming in to Doug Thompson, the publisher of Capitol Hill Blue, a four-year-old Web site, about three weeks ago. Journalists from a broadcast news organization, from U.S. News & World Report, and from several British and American newspapers, wanted his Web publication to help them reach the sources for an article he had published.

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. Several times times over the past 25 years I’ve tried to walk away from my creation. I always came back.

At its peak, Blue has a paid staff of writers and editors and enough advertising revenue to pay most of the costs, but now it is back to what it was 25 years ago:  A one-man operation with some volunteers to help with editing and run a companion electronic bulletin board.  We subscribe to wire services for some coverage, but that cost is quickly becoming prohibitive.

How much longer, we might ask, will Capitol Hill Blue continue?  Good question.  I think about that on each Oct. 1. Given what is happening in Washington, it will last, at least, though the end of 2020.  The impeachment inquiry adds to the uncertainty of the presidency of Donald Trump.


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1 thought on “Reporting political news for 25 years”

  1. And they said it wouldn’t work (invoking the Trumpian they). Congratulations and best wishes from an old fan back in Alton. Who could forget “Conventionally Speaking”? Apparently almost everybody. Give my best to Amy. Later this month will be attending a 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Mississippi River Festival at the Lovejoy Library at SIUE. Best of luck in all your future endeavors.

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