All this week, we’re highlighting how our fellow Seattleites have reacted to the 2016 election, and today we’re starting with Matt Kiser.
For Central District resident Matt Kiser, President Donald Trump’s January ban on travel from six Muslim-majority countries was a terrible taste of what was to come from the new administration. At the time, Matt, a former music journalist, had been collecting news articles to keep track of what was going on in the White House. He realized these collections of articles might be useful to other people, and so shortly after the ban, he launched “What the F*ck Just Happened Today?”, a daily newsletter and website to make it easier to know what the f*ck happened at the White House on any given day.
“I think there’s a lot of people who give a shit about what’s going on and feel really shitty [about not understanding],” he says. “That’s a big part of what I do: Help them check in on their own terms… People are into this idea that I’m just a dude who’s trying to do this. I wasn’t an activist before this.”
The newsletter — and later, podcast — became a daily companion for thousands of Seattleites trying to make sense of a chaotic newscycle. WTF became such a hit that Matt quit his full-time job to devote his full attention to deciphering the Trump administration daily for the public. The site’s grown such a dedicated following that he’s now considering hiring another writer.
Here’s what Matt thinks made WTF such a success:
Why did you start WTF?
I think it’s rooted in who I am and my background and how I grew up. I was always a really political kid. I grew up on punk rock [and] very much into anti-establishment stuff.
I had always loved this band called the Dead Kennedys. Their singer, Jello Biafra once said “Don’t hate the media, become the media.” That’s always stuck with me.
Over dinner after the Women’s March [in Washington, D.C.] I was talking to my good friend…and we were talking about how difficult it was to keep up with the news. And for us, we’re all affluent white people, we’re so privileged. One: That we have downtime, and two: that we’re able to spend it knowing what’s going on in the world. How would a normal person in the world that has a family, a job or two jobs ever keep up with this stuff? No one likes to follow politics unless they’re like a junkie, you know?
How does WTF make news out of the White House more accessible?
I like and subscribe to both Vox Sentences and the Politico Playbook. Both are big influences on what I do. The difference between those and what I do is in the scope and mission. I focus primarily on the Trump White House and that’s it – it’s very narrow in scope. Playbook covers politics in general and Vox Sentences is more of a general news newsletter. I also don’t try to explain what the news means. That’s not my job. I promise to tell you what happened today. Somebody smarter than me can tell you what it means.
Who are you writing this for?
I wanted to create something I would want to read. I know this probably sounds cliché, but as someone who grew up being very politically active, I kind of tuned out the last 8 years… Politics is a tough subject to follow for a very long period of time, and for most people they just tune it out, which is why you see lack of civic engagement in society. There’s so much nuance to it that a normal person can’t really digest that…
What was different about Trump that made you tune back in?
I was in high school when the tech bubble burst, I graduated a few months after 9/11, spent college protesting the war, and came out of college head-first into the recession. Obama felt like progress and relative stability and I got complacent. The  presidential election was clearly going to be a big deal for many reasons, but primarily because it was an opportunity to continue with that theme of progress and follow up the first African-American president with the first woman as president.
Would you keep doing this newsletter if, let’s say, Trump isn’t re-elected?
Yeah. I don’t think Democrats are sane either, and politicians need to always be checked. And that’s what makes the news media so important: it acts as the “fourth estate,” it’s a check and a balance. And I think a lot of people in this [WTF just happened today] community would not want me tracking a democratic president, but I think it needs to be done. So that would be an interesting thing, a chasm to cross, to potentially turn over the entire subscription base all at once. That doesn’t sound very fun now that I say that out loud.
This must be pretty tiring. What keeps you motivated?
It’s super rewarding and it’s fun. It’s this giant puzzle of “how does it all fit together” and trying to always cut through the bullshit and cut through all the clickbait and just get down to what happened. What’s the truth of today? And put it together in a way that makes it easy for people to digest.
Subscribe to Matt’s newsletter here. Know of a project launched by a Seattleite in response to the presidential election? Let us know at email@example.com and we’ll add it to a list we’ll be sharing out soon.
This story has been shortened and condensed for clarity.
Sara Gentzler contributed reporting to this story.