There was, he discovered, more coverage of the race than either he or Dolan knew.
Whipple, who rises early, about 4:30 a.m. or so, began copying and pasting stories about Virginia politics from the newspaper sites into Microsoft Word that fall. He printed out all that he could find, then walked down the street to Dolan’s house. Whipple stuck the printout into the plastic bag holding Dolan’s copy of The Washington Post.
Dolan told others about Whipple’s printouts, and they told others. Whipple would send it to anyone who asked, as long as they had an e-mail account so he didn’t have to hand-deliver the report. Over the next 15 years, about 2,100 people — legislators, reporters, lobbyists, state employees and Virginia political junkies — signed up for what became the daily e-mail known as the Whipple report, the Whipple wire or the Whipple clips.
“It’s the Bible of the Virginia press corps, the Virginia political class . . . pretty much everybody reads it in the morning,” said Bob Lewis, political writer for the Associated Press in Richmond. “It’s indispensable.”
The report, formally named VaNews and now run by the Virginia Public Access Project, was one of a handful of digital experiments born as entrepreneurs, idealists and amateurs tried to figure out what the Web could do. One of the precursors to news aggregation sites and blogs, Whipple’s newsletter vacuumed up stories published around the commonwealth and redistributed them. Unlike most of those experiments, which quietly failed or faltered, his idea lives on.
“No one paid him a thing. He did it as a labor of love,” said David Poole, executive director of the access project. “We feel pretty humbled trying to keep it going.”
Some glitches were to be expected. Whipple originally did a simple copy-and-paste of complete stories into his newsletter, which likely violates copyright law. But providing just a link to stories wasn’t an option; in those days links on many Web sites quickly expired, often after a single day. And no one officially complained.
Whipple heard rumors that some Republicans wouldn’t subscribe because of the name. He has been married for 53 years to former state senator Mary Margaret Whipple, a leader in the Virginia Democratic Party.
“I played it totally straight, nonpartisan, just like in my old job,” said the retired CIA analyst who specialized in the Middle East. “As long as somebody was talking about state politics, it went in there.”
Others agree. Longtime subscriber and Virginia’s speaker of the House, William J. Howell (R-Stafford), said that Whipple showed “absolutely no bias, nothing snarky. It’s been a very handy way to know what’s happening around the state.”