With me on the blog today is another of my awesome VCFA classmates, the delightful Laura Byrne, who is here to talk about her news website, WordStirs, which she maintains with her son, Tim.
El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
• I’m a former sports editor and writer, whose athletic son had to remind her that there is more at stake in the world than the score of any given football game.
• Tim is a former finance student and current consultant, who plans to drown the world in unbiased, simple news so we can stop beating each other up at family dinners, and get back to arguing about important things, like whether or not ketchup should be refrigerated.
• We are a mother/son partnership that somehow works, despite a few notable differences. Example: Tim lives in Manhattan in an apartment the size of an elevator, with no car, and eats food the names of which most people can’t pronounce, from countries he’s never visited. I live in rural New Jersey, on 25 acres, and make my own bread, which is usually white.
• We bring two worldviews together to model how differences can be valued, and information shared through simple, unbiased articles.
El Space: What’s your process for choosing news stories? How do you keep track of trending news and still sleep and keep your sanity?
Laura: You know how some dogs will chase a ball forever? You toss one down the driveway for my Barney and he won’t stop retrieving it—a thousand throws, some day—until you take that slobbery ball away. That’s Tim and me with news. A thousand stories, and then we take Tim’s slobbery laptop from him. While retrieving all that news, we try to determine, given our readers’ limited time, what single story will help them to understand the world a little better.
Barney and Fred (yes, they are brothers)
El Space: The articles are so engaging! How did you come up the format?
Laura: How WordStirs is organized: Every article set is developed from one topic that is summarized in a paragraph or two in our News Made Simple. Then, that News Made Simple article segues into three additional articles, which continue to explain the topic:
• The Geek. Want more background on the News Made Simple topic? You can click on the Geek.
• The Debater. Want to understand two sides of the News Made Simple topic? You can check out the Debater, which is often a discussion between Tim and me.
• The Runner. In a hurry? The Runner can get you out the door with just enough information about a current event to make you feel informed.
We take a subject, say, the coronavirus relief package, and look at the Fox News perspective. Then, we consider The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal—and more. We also go to original documents, including Congressional records and World Health Organization guidelines. We look at fact-checking sites like PolitiFact, Snopes, and FactCheck.org. If we’ve done our job, somewhere in the article set you should see your perspective. But, if we’ve done our job, somewhere you’ll also discover something that makes you think, that challenges you and your prior beliefs.
El Space: How has the advent of COVID-19 affected your news coverage?
Laura: The coronavirus has dominated the news, including our coverage, and it carries with it additional concerns. For example, correct information is critically important and yet harder to get than ever as so many people are armchair-epidemiologist-ing the cures, courses of action, and predictions for the future. We’re trying to be even more critical of our sources and careful with our work.
El Space: Who inspires you?
Laura: The Secret Gardeners, my graduating class from Vermont College, are the most talented writers in the world, and their voices are always in my head, reminding me of the power of words.
El Space: Yay! What’s next for the site? What else are you working on?
Laura: Tim and I are working on a podcast. We’ve tried a few practice recordings and, so far, haven’t gotten past teasing each other. We’ll get it together, hopefully soon.
Check out this video at Tim Byrne’s YouTube Channel:
The unicorn helps Henry get the point about social distancing.
P.S. The winners of the next two child Yodas are Charles and Marian. Again, I had to let them know ahead of time because of the fluctuating times we live in. I am working on yet another Yoda, so it’s not too late to put your bid in for one. 😀
Author photos and logo courtesy of Laura Byrne. Breaking news image from freepik. Washington Post logo from Wikimedia. Other logos found at various places on the internet. Other photo by L. Marie.