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From the Publisher: News or Lose

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Published October 5, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.


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We've got a simple mission here at Seven Days: to keep you informed about all things Vermont. But it's a two-way street. A knowledgeable citizenry reads and votes and holds government and institutions accountable. Without media scrutiny, and public interest and engagement, democracy goes to hell.

No pressure.

On a lighter note, there's another reason to stay on top of the local news: better performance on the Vermont News Quiz, one of three dopamine-driven digital games we've recently rolled out for readers.

Following the lead of media outlets like the New York Times, Seven Days now offers a weekly test of news literacy in the form of a fun, compelling collection of eight questions. Last week's quiz asked: "The level of what substance was reduced in Richmond's drinking water for years without the public's knowledge?"

If you paid attention to the news, you'd know the answer: fluoride.

Another question, the week before: "On Wednesday, the Burlington Police Department said they're partnering with _____ to crack down on gun violence in the region."

The correct answer: B) federal and local state agencies — not C) Batman and Robin.

Right or wrong, you get a one-sentence summary of the story and a link to the article. About half of ours are sourced from other local outlets.

Up to speed on all the big stories? You'll earn a good score — and permission to feel virtuous. Behind on the week's news? This is an easy, entertaining way to catch up.

The company that creates the quizzes, News Games, was founded by two tech guys. Kevin McCurdy and Bill Miles met in Silicon Valley, Calif., but now live in Hanover, N.H. Both are "big believers in the importance of local news," as well as fans of the New York Times News Quiz, according to McCurdy. "We just really liked that interaction paradigm," he said. They noticed no local news organizations doing anything similar.

The reason soon became apparent: Very few local media companies have the bandwidth to innovate at that level. So McCurdy and Miles, who are now brothers-in-law, built a customizable platform drawing from their collective experience in digital media. It's designed to give readers a playful way to engage with local news online — and to keep them coming back for more.

To better understand the product, McCurdy launched the Upper Valley News Quiz and learned how to write it. "There's more to it than meets the eye," he noted. A month or two in, Norwich-based writer and publisher Rob Gurwitt noticed it and started promoting the game on his weekday online newsletter, Daybreak.

Last year the company landed its first big customer, Boston's public radio station, WBUR. Other NPR affiliates, including NHPR, have since signed on, and newspapers are inquiring.

"It's a little bit too early to call it a trend," McCurdy said modestly.

I'm not so sure. As soon as we saw the product and met with the team, we knew it was right for Seven Days. The Vermont News Quiz launched — softly — two weeks ago. You can find it every week in our Friday Daily 7 and Sunday Best email newsletters and online at sevendaysvt.com/quiz.

This week come two more innovations from News Games: a daily word puzzle we're calling Daysle and a weekly News Crossword that feature words inspired by and links to our stories.

Between the two of them, McCurdy and Miles have five kids — all of whom were teens when they were developing the News Games products. Like the rest of their generation, they're used to getting information in entertaining, bite-size chunks, McCurdy noted. "When they liked the prototypes," he said, "we knew we were on to something."

Check out the new games, and let us know what you think. And don't worry; we're keeping our beloved print crossword inside the classified section and downloadable online.