On a Friday afternoon earlier this month, nearly a dozen news alerts were pushed to my phone announcing that a Boston judge had ruled to enforce President Donald Trump’s ban on immigration in Massachusetts. The problem was, a Seattle judge had just ruled to block it nationwide, making Boston’s ruling moot.
Since Trump’s presidency began, even veteran journalists have been struggling to grasp everything that happens in the White House, so how can a person whose day-to-day life doesn’t revolve around news keep up?
That’s the problem Matt Kiser is hoping to solve with his recently launched blog, “What The Fuck Just Happened Today?”
The blog, with a tagline that says it’s “logging the daily shock and awe,” features a list of articles chronicling everything that happened in politics for each day since Trump took office. Kiser writes short summaries for each article, so readers can choose if they want to deep-dive into a particular subject. As of this writing, Trump — and Kiser — are 29 days in, with Day 1 being the inauguration.
Kiser, who works full time as a product manager at Seattle startup Algorithmia, said he spends an average of six hours a day on the project, which has amassed approximately 60,000 newsletter subscribers. In one month, Kiser estimates he’s sunk $500 of his own money into running the blog.
So, why the fuck does he do it?
Kiser describes himself as “a bit of an activist,” and while he’s not always super involved, he did travel to Washington, D.C., with friends for the Women’s March. He’s always managed to keep up on politics and the news in general, but he realized during that trip that the average person may just not have the time or energy.
“What do you do if you’re normal and you work two jobs or you’re struggling to make ends meet?” Kiser asked. “You have no opportunity to read the news and keep up let alone read multiple sources with diverse viewpoints.”
To address this, Kiser turned to news aggregation.
The idea of collecting stories from different agencies to provide summaries isn’t exactly new. E-newsletter theSkimm has more than 3.5 million subscribers, and Breaking News, where I previously worked, had more than 9.5 million Twitter followers when we shut down in December.
He’s also not the first Seattle tech worker to launch a media startup in wake of Trump’s presidency. Former Microsoft employee Jan Miksovsky created Presterity, which categorizes White House policies and provides a timeline of news stories surrounding them. In January, Seattleite Sol Villareal launched “Last week in Trump,” a weekly newsletter summarizing Trump-related stories and providing reactions from both sides of the aisle.
What makes Kiser’s approach different, however, is the technology behind it. The site is currently hosted on the open-source coding platform GitHub — though Kiser plans on shifting to Amazon S3 — and this weekend he’s hoping to launch a Wikipedia-like editing system.
Once that system is rolled out, anybody can edit a file and submit a pull request to Kiser. He can then choose whether to accept and publish it on the site. With this update, Kiser will be essentially crowdsourcing a newsroom. Readers can act as editors or fact-checkers and tweak pieces on WTF or create their own, with Kiser providing “light editorial guidance.” Kiser hopes it will allow him to touch on more topics throughout the day.
“We’re in this climate right now, especially in politics, where there’s just so much news coming out every single day,” Kiser said. “Literally the day’s news is old news.”
While Trump’s first month in the White House has made this especially evident, the idea that news often moves faster than the average person can read isn’t limited to politics, and Kiser knows that. He said he never intended for WTF to grow at the pace it has, but, now that it has, he’s considering where to take it next. Sports and business are two areas he floated as possible topics in the future, but don’t expect them anytime soon.
For now, WTF will stay focused on D.C. politics, where there’s no shortage of news. Kiser has recently enlisted the help of volunteers and started a pledge drive to fund the blog, which costs around $1,600 a month to run, through the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency. Beyond that, well, Kiser is too busy focusing on what is happening right now to think about that.
“To be honest, I’m really behind the eight ball on all of this,” Kiser said. “I just did this thing and it blew up in my face.”