journalist Dan Sinker

An interview with Dan Sinker on his daily distillation of the unfolding impeachment saga

By Tony


October 28, 2019


The fast-spinning hamster wheel of breaking news around impeachment is a lot to keep up with and make sense of. Enter Dan Sinker’s website and newsletter—your daily one-stop-shop for a comprehensive and often amusing digest of each day’s news. Launched a few weeks back on a lark, it’s quickly become indispensable. Think of it like the synopsis you have to check after a particularly convoluted episode of Game of Thrones. We reached out to Dan to see how he’s holding up…

This whole project started with your tweet on September 27: “How have the Democrats not yet set up an impeachment mini site that explains the reasoning, outlines what’s currently happening, and gives the the where-from-here?” An hour or so later you posted “I’m just gonna have to do this aren’t I.” Did you have any idea what you were getting yourself into?

Hahahhahaha, not in the slightest. That was a really funny day because I had this idea that this thing should exist, reached out to some folks to tell them they should make it, and when they weren’t interested, sort of backed my way into realizing that I should make it. Which, honestly, is sort of how I’ve made most everything in my life so it wasn’t entirely a surprising place to end up but still it was an adventure. 

I ended up building my own system to do the thing over the next couple days, throwing things like embed code for a newsletter in and just thinking “Oh, I’ll figure out the newsletter thing later” and then launching it late on a Sunday night. The next day 1000 people had signed up and I realized that I probably actually had to do the thing now. And that was *checks notes* two weeks ago and now many, many more people are getting the newsletter which is being written by me six days a week. It’s a lot? But also, what isn’t now. This is a time where everything is a lot and if there’s a little bit of load that I can take on so other people maybe don’t have to obsessively refresh their feeds every few minutes, OK I’ll do it.

Some elements of the impeachment inquiry get pretty complex… what stuff has been the most difficult to distill or explain?

One thing that’s been really interesting to me, as someone that obsessively follows the news, is that the practice and discipline of only updating one time a day means that you are forced to take a step back and evaluate a day’s worth of news and decide what actually bubbles up to the level of the 5 or so bullet points that may make that day’s update. And what I’ve ended up realizing is that a lot of what feels like “complexity” is actually just “acceleration.” There is so much coming at you at once that it’s hard to figure out what is and isn’t important–it’s BREAKING NEWS so it all must be. People have talked for a while about “slow news” and I think for the first time I get it. Removing yourself from the 24-hour/60-second cycle isn’t a terrible idea I think. 

But, that isn’t actually your question is it. In writing I think the most complex thing is explaining who people are in a way that doesn’t get increasingly more muddled as the cast grows. Everyone has titles, everyone has relationships both formal and informal, and keeping all those bodies in a coherent space while also keeping the language efficient is definitely a challenge. 

Have you hit send on an update only to have some major new revelation break minutes later?

Yes, definitely. In the first week I ended up sending a late-night update because the text messages between State Department staffers — the ones that described in quite a bit of detail the quid-pro-quo involved between the White House and Ukraine — were released and I felt like they were going to define the discussion the next day. So I sent one out and it turned out they didn’t really have much of an impact at all and I decided that there is almost nothing that can’t just wait until the next day’s update. I purposefully wait until the business day is over East Coast, so most updates coming from Capitol Hill at least will be done. But some things do end up coming out and it’s OK. They get rolled into the next days or they prove to not be important enough to make it in. Either is a fine resolution. 

It feels like the dam has burst and things are getting crazier with each passing day. How much crazier do you think it might get?

This has been a true statement since about halfway through 2016. Right at the end of the election that year I started a podcast with my friend Maureen Johnson called “Says Who.” It was supposed to be just eight episodes over eight weeks, documenting the final eight weeks of the election before everything returned to “normal.” We just crossed the three year mark and are 108 episodes in. And pretty much every week is more wild than the one that came before. The impeachment is just a microcosm of that: this week is wilder than last week which was wilder than the week I started. I expect that it’ll continue in that direction as more people do the mental calculus of which side of history they want to be on and the president feels increasingly boxed in by investigations. It’s going to stay wild until it isn’t. And I honestly don’t know what “done” is going to look like.

I know a lot of people (including on the Yes Plz team) who love this, because they have enough good sense to not subject themselves to the Twitter/breaking news firehose the way folks like you and I do, but still want to keep up with the unfolding saga. Given that this could drag out for many months, are you prepared to keep this up as a one-man band for the long haul? 

I mean the short answer is I’m following this shit anyway so it may be useful to someone else. But the longer answer is that I launch a lot of projects. Most of them are experiments, some make people smile, a few make money, all of them help me learn new things. This one is a rare project that’s hit with a lot of people, seems to be providing genuine worth to a lot of them, has a voluntary payment system that people actually use so it’s helping me make ends meet as well, and is teaching me a ton. It’s not a full time job or even a part time one but people’s generosity has made it so that I can at least look at the time involved and be like “huh, it’s sort of paying for itself here.” Which is amazing to say two weeks into a thing that I launched essentially on a whim. But beyond that: it’s fun. I have spent the last couple decades of my life denying that I’m a writer because I hate to write — even though over that same time, I’ve written tons and tons of things — but I don’t hate writing this. And I’ve also spent decades of my life trying to figure out ways of making complex things easy and how to engage people in the world around them. This project does all these things and way more. Sitting down with the news every day is like a game of Tetris: a puzzle you have to make to fit together. All the parts need to make sense and the story you tell has to feel accurate and resonant. Plus, I’m basically involved in writing the first draft of a historical moment–that’s pretty amazing. And, along the way, I’m meeting people and helping people and, yeah as I’m saying all this I’ve convinced myself. Sure, I’ll stick with it. 

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