It’s Thursday, June 2, 2022 and another warm day in Portland, Oregon.
ice cream fro-yo yesterday. It’s Portland, so it was artisanal and the vanilla was delicious, and the blackberry lemon magic shell was stupendous. The kids did their thing and put three toppings on theirs, which was so exciting they had to continuously yell the word “yeet”, somewhat uncomprehendingly, for at least 30 seconds.
A couple news things caught my attention recently.
The Tiny News Collective posted an update, Building a technical foundation for the future of local news, on what they’ve learned over the last two years building a publishing system for small, mostly local publishers.
Caught my attention because: they’ve thought about a full set of features for starting out at “publishing news” that includes everything from the bog standard web publishing through to membership, donation, advertising, comments, analytics and so on. There’s an excellent section on why they’re not building on/using WordPress, with good reasons. In my head, WordPress has definitely now arrived at the Visual Basic space of software – powerful, easy enough for you to do something… good enough, verging on badly? And yet also clearly powerful enough for you to do the right thing. This is a bit of me being Old Man Yells At Cloud, but WordPress when I last looked at it maybe a year ago, with the new blocks interface, was just… difficult.
There’s something here in the tradeoff between the accessibility and usability to a large audience, and “just let me do what I know is possible” ends of the same spectrum. I burned a bunch of time trying to figure out how to do the New Work Website well, gave up on doing it in WordPress, and then tried to do it with Squarespace before giving up and just accepting that I wasn’t designing/building a website, I was designing a Squarespace website.
I’m getting this frustration a lot. There are things that I used to know how to do, and things that I also still know how to do in practice, and yet they are all more fiddly, or seem more fiddly than they used to. I am probably wrong at least in degree in this assessment, because if I think about it properly, I probably did burn weeks tweaking HTML and CSS to get my blog just right more than twenty years ago. I just wasn’t in a long-term relationship, nor was I a parent back then. And nor did I have to deal with all the bullshit of life today.
But I digress, I was talking and thinking about the Tiny News Collective. The most amazing thing, the most brilliant thing, and the thing I’m super interested in is how the team looked really hard and gosh-darn doubled down on using Google Docs as the editing and publishing interface! This is goddamn genius. You write in Google Docs, you don’t need to learn any Markdown, you do all your formatting as usual and then they use Google Apps Script and a custom, supported Google Docs sidebar where you add your metadata. It all hinges on the API for Google Docs documents, and honestly, ever since I read this a few days ago I’ve been reeling.
Anyway. Fantastic work from a super interesting group.
I’ve been thinking for a while about news for a purpose other than the high-level “so that I know what’s going on”, because the high-level “so that I know what’s going on” is a bit of a dodge. You want to know what’s going on so that you can make decisions, and some of those decisions are more or less important, more or less urgent, and so on. Honestly, when I think about things this way it feels like it’s clearer to see when news is acting like entertainment or sports reporting when it thinks it’s something else. See: the spread of the idea that political news covers teams playing some sort of abstract game with points. When, sure, on some level that’s true, but not really helpful or connecting with people when the game is “how many black people do we get to incarcerate” or “let’s pretend we’re being neutral about the shocking incidence of gun violence in the United States”.
Every single time I think about this I come back to something like clear, topic/issue focussed news where it’s less of a curated front page and an editorial decision about what you should know about in the world (which there absolutely is and should be a place and space for!), and more of the “I care about x, tell me what’s happening so I can do something with that information.” My examples are usually things like womens reproductive rights and gun violence because I live in America, the most inspiring nation of the entire world.
So now I see Today Do This, a weekly newsletter that covers:
The last issue was on May 27, covering the murder of 19 children and 2 adults in an elementary school in Uvalde, and was a total of 231 words. It pointed to Everytown as the “someone who’s doing something”, pointed to Everytown as a way to get involved (donating, and so on), and also highlighted a “what you can do at work”.
This is… quite close to what I’m thinking of? It’s not where I’m thinking because it’s national, or rather, the “do this” is pointing to a large, national organization (that might then bubble down to local organizing and information, sure), which works for helping you feel you’re Part Of Something, but not necessarily that you’re yet Doing Something Local With People Near You. Which again, depends on the Who in the Who’s Doing Something.
There’s some nice context to What Just Happened part, but what I’m also intrigued about is, on a web version at least, giving more context so it’s there if you want it. What’s happened nearby? What’s happened before? What’s been tried before? Significantly more experienced and smarter people than I, I’m sure, have tried to figure out how to summarize and include that context and grow it as a body. And no, I’m not talking about Wikipedia.
Another quick plug of my Support This Newsletter By Getting Your Boss To Pay Because It’s Totally Worth It For Your Job:
Okay, that was about 15 minutes.
Only two things today, and it’s time for a morning standup with one of my teams.
How are you?