back to the Black Table

In April 2000, the Web start up I was working for had $48 million in venture capital money and a staff of young turks who were ready to take over the world, heads swelled with thoughts of online greatness. In the parlance of the time, our mission was to create a portal from different content channels where twentysomethings would aggregate, attracted by our celebrity "editors" like Billy Baldwin.

It was an utter fiasco.

Four months later, the money never materialized and I was laid off, drinking glasses of Jack Daniels in my exit interview as if it was an


Irish wake. One minute, I was the freshly crowned editor of a brand-new site, talking up our venture on CNBC and driving cross country on a promotional tour and the next, it was all over. I was pissed at the lack of warning. I was pissed at the lack of severance. But most of all I was pissed about the lost opportunity -- a chance to continue on with IssuePaper, the political Website I created -- that hurt the most.

I wasn't alone. The dot com bust triggered a tidal wave of cynicism that flushed out Web pioneers, shuttering sites like Suck and Feed and even the once-great Ironminds, leaving us with little except Slate and Salon. Out went our babies. Out went the bathwater. And in came a general


consensus that held (and still does, to a large degree) that content on the Web can't work, because idiotic venture capitalists couldn't recoup their hasty and absurdly large investments. Applying an instant lotto jackpot mentality to a slowly emerging medium was absurd and so was the backlash, akin to dubbing the printing press a failure because 180 copies of the Gutenberg Bible didn't sell like hotcakes in 1454.

For a variety of reasons, it took me a couple years to launch The Black Table. But a year ago, we started this to see what would have happened to online content if we'd been given more time instead of broken million-dollar promises.

In essence, The Black Table was founded on the belief that Websites don't need large amounts of money, since the cost to publish is extremely small -- we pay $70 a month for the cable modem and $30 at most for Web hosting. The one thing Websites need is time. Time to develop an audience, work out their editorial kinks and see if they can be consistent.

Luckily, The Black Table has been in a good position to test this theory. We don't have any money. And we certainly have all the time in the world to see if this experiment would last or if it would fail like a trillion other Websites that start with high hopes, turn into vanity projects and then succumb under the weight of unrealistic expectations.

And so, The Black Table became a hobby, something we did in our spare time, after work and over weekends -- and remains that way a year later. Everyone involved has day jobs and no one has received a single dime for their work on The Black Table. We don't have a corporate backer with a $48 million promise, a tech guru, a copy desk, or much experience doing this kind of thing, but we had time to learn from our mistakes.

This is still the case. Nothing about The Black Table is automated or even terribly efficient. All of the stories are laid out and designed by hand. All of the links and archives are updated by hand. Everything you see here has been cobbled together, one story at a time, day by day, by people who couldn't bear to think that Salon and Slate would be the be-all, end-all of original online content.

Over the last 365 days, The Black Table has published 365 stories, somehow fulfilling our guiding credo and only promise to readers: To update daily. Looking back, I'm proud of what we've done and even prouder of all those spelling errors and coding mistakes because they are the freckles that escaped the airbrushing. As this retrospective shows, they are signs of our growth and evolution, all made possible because no one was breathing down our neck to make money.

Our content has evolved, thanks in no small part to the more than 60 people who donated some writing, or a review, or a piece of artwork, or their time to our cause. We're a sum of our parts, really. The fact that we're still rolling along is a credit to their hard work and also a credit to you, our wonderful readers. Your scathing missives, thoughtful critiques and occasional love letters proved that we didn't need money to make people pay attention.

I don't say any of this to break my arm patting us on the back or to offer empty gratitude. I say this because we're proof that you can do this too. It's not that expensive. You can find cheap Web hosting, and chances are, you've already got Web access and a computer at home. Steal some Web authoring software from a friend, or from Kazaa. A digital camera and photo editing software wouldn't hurt, but you can add that later.

Money isn't the issue. You have all the time in the world, as we move into our second year, I implore you to start laying plans for your first, because there's a lot of room on this playground for everyone.

The Web's not dead. It's just getting started -- and so are we. Thank you for reading, submitting stories and supporting our mission.



To celebrate our first year, you are cordially invited to our party. Please show up, bring friends and say hello.