Reality in 400 Words or Less

Tim Lavis, News Editor

ST: Explain the basic concept of your website.
JM: Simplify Reality is your news in 400 words or less. What we do is explain social concepts, current events, health concepts, political concepts [and] economic concepts in an easy to understand way for high school students, college students [and] busy professionals. We started writing articles, really just to simplify current issues and now we’re doing much more. We’re trying to become a [source for] everything; anything from “what are antioxidants’ [to] “what is blood alcohol content” – we’re your way of understanding what they are without knowing anything about them.
ST: How many articles do you have on the site so far?
JM: Currently, almost 25. One of the things that makes [Simplify Reality] neat is that it is for students, by students. All of the writers we’ve had so far are either in high school or in college. We’ve had writers from Flordia State University, writers from SUNY Oneonta, from Binghamton, from high schools in Maryland [and] California. People from all around the country [are] writing for us.
ST: Do you pay your writers or is it volunteer work?
JM: It’s all volunteer, but we feature them on our author page so they can have links to their blogs, their twitters, their facebook [page], to promote their personal brand.
ST: Why 400 words or less?
JM: We were trying to figure out what to call the site and what the byline should be and I said “I want the articles to be able to be read without you having to scroll,” One page in Microsoft Word is 400 words so we came up with 400 words or less and we’ve stuck with it.
ST: Do you think readers can get enough valuable information from 400 words?
JM: Simplify Reality is not a place to replace news sources. It’s more of a place to go [to] catch up on some of the back-work that you missed when you see a news article and it starts talking about something that’s currently happening [to help you] find the backlog to the story. [It’s built to help you figure out] what happened before so you can understand the current issue[s better].
ST: So it’s meant to help you learn the background before you go deeper into an issue?
JM: Right: we pride ourselves on being that smart friend that [you] have, [who] can explain [anything] to you, in your terms.
ST: Simplify Reality is free to use. Have you ever thought about making it a paid site?
JM: We’re planning to keep it free, and we’re actually planning, at the moment, to keep no advertisements on the site. [At least] until we have a really solid user base. We’ve had a lot of inspiration from Web 2.0 [tools]. [It’s] a clean site with no ads, with no banners and pop-ups and things like that to get in the way of the reader. We think, possibly, if we ever want to make money on the site, [we might] have users sign up for an email subscription and allowing advertisers to advertize on that. But unless the opportunity is really there, we’re going to keep it the way it is.
ST: You mentioned you were inspired by Web 2.0 technology. Is there any talk of using video, audio, or any interactive technology or will it just be text?
JM: Right now, its just text. We’re working, on the development side, on having pictures (almost comic strips) of each individual story. My personal dream of the site, if it takes off and we can get enough money to work on it full time, is to allow the user to learn how they like to… whether it’s audio, visual, or… reading the text. We want to give them three options for how to read each story on the site. But when you’re a student and you don’t have all of your time devoted to the site, it’s pretty difficult to do – that’s where we want to be [though].
ST: How many hits have you gotten so far?
We actually just hit 10,000 – in our first two weeks of being launched. [Although] I’ve been working on [Simplify Reality] since Thanksgiving break. We [had our] launch around January 11. After the first two weeks we had 6,000 views and we’re at 10,000 [now]. We’re picking up a lot of steam because we just added a new Senior Social Media Correspondent who specializes in this. She’s been unbelievable so far.
ST: Is there anything else you’d like to develop as the site moves forward?
JM: The main thing [is] adding content and making [Simplify Reality] a site where people can say they’ve [written] for [and have it mean] something to an employer or maybe a school that is looking at them. What we’re working on now is… a Campus Guru Program, [we find one person on campus] to be the “guru.” They would be responsible for having 2-3 articles a week. And they would [write the articles themselves] or allow other people to write those articles. [The writers would then] send them to the guru, who would send them to the content editor, and we would have a stream of articles coming in… that we would post every Thursday and Sunday… Between those times we would have those writers promoting the articles via social media [sites].
ST: What is your fact-checking process?
JM: Every author is supposed to be posting individual links to where they got their [information] and also suggestions for where people should go after they’ve read [the] article.
ST: So users can fact check for themselves?
JM: Yeah. We want to make the authors feel like they’re experts in the field. We feel like they’re credible enough on the topics that we’re writing about.
ST: Then what’s Simplify Reality’s editing process?
JM: Editing is tough. Some topics are [surrounded by] a lot of controversy. We want to be able to explain them in an unbiased way. We want to be right in the middle, so our content editor is constantly sending feedback to [writers] saying “you have to be able to make sure that this is going to be fine. [For example] we did an article on the US and Iran, and we really had to critique it to make sure it fit our standards, that somebody that someone who was very extreme [for] Iran could read it the same way that somebody who was very extreme [for] the US [could].
ST: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
JM: [Visit us on our] facebook (simplify reality) and our twitter (@simplify reality)

   This transcription only initials about half our The State Time’s talk with Milstein: regretfully, that’s all the print space we could devote to our discussion. Check out our new website,, to listen to the full version of the interview. Or visit to to see the site for yourself.

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