Meet Sift, an experiment in news therapy

Oct 17, 2018 · 3 min read

If you feel anxious or overwhelmed by following the news, you’re not alone. 68% of Americans feel exhausted by the news, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center. Staying informed is a civic duty that carries with it an emotional burden. And news anxiety can lead to feelings of learned helplessness, even when we want to help. Our civic engagement and, in turn, our democracy inevitably suffers.

We created Sift because we believe there’s a way to stay informed and feel empowered at the same time.

There are many reasons why our news ecosystem is so overwhelming. A vital industry is trapped in a broken advertising model that incentivizes the wrong things. Social media platforms bolster our human and algorithmic penchant for tribalism and confirmation bias. All of this has contributed to a deepening national political divide.

Sift certainly won’t solve all of this, but we’d like to make a difference.

Get the iOS app and give it a try

Starting with an experiment

We know we can’t make a dent in this problem on our own, so we decided to launch Sift as an experiment. The first version of our iOS app covers just one topic: immigration policy.

We wanted to start with a topic that’s complex, contentious, and ongoing. Since first- and second-generation immigrants make up nearly a third of the U.S. population, we decided that immigration policy would be a widely relevant topic to help test our assumptions about what makes for a more empowering reading experience.

Sift intentionally covers contentious topics. They’re contentious because they’re hard, because they’re misunderstood, and because we’re often unable or unwilling to grant ourselves the time, space, and mindfulness to pursue deeper understanding.

When we write and design for Sift, we’re not trying to preach to a specific choir. What we want more than anything is to create space for all of us to pause, reflect, and better understand the world around us.

Hyperbole, partisanship, passive aggression — and just plain aggression — may make for tantalizing headlines, but they have no place in Sift.

Going right to the source

Truth is essential to better understanding, and there’s no reason we should take things at face value. That’s why we provide sources for every assertion we make. And that doesn’t just mean a link to a 618-page research paper, but rather, precise excerpts that provide the context for why we’re saying what we’re saying. If you’d like to go to any source and read the whole thing, you can do that from Sift too.

Checking our assumptions

Sift takes complex ideas and breaks them down into stories told with progressive data visualization. This doesn’t make it easy. Sift isn’t meant to be easy. But it puts you in charge of actively stepping through different layers of a point at your own pace.

We’ve incorporated these data-centered interactions to give you a chance to check your assumptions. This can help us uncover our unconscious biases or simply find out what we know and what we don’t.

Now it’s your turn

This first version of Sift is just one approach to making information about complex, contentious topics more accessible. We intend to learn and iterate, but that can’t happen in a vacuum. We’d like to invite you to join us in this experiment. Your input will influence what happens next for Sift.

Try Sift for iOS, give feedback along the way, and feel free to reach out at

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