Selfies and social media are often on the minds of teenagers.
For 15-year-old Olivia Seltzer, her days and nights are filled with something more than hashtags and heart emojis.
She reads the news.
Seltzer, a sophomore at Santa Barbara High School, created The Cramm, a daily news email and text message digest. She reads news from newspapers and news media outlets from around the world, and then rewrites stories into short paragraphs of news, in the voice of how a teenager might speak it.
Like this one, for example, from Oct. 4:
“The HAPPENINGS: Yesterday, Trump said ‘I know I just said it but I’m still not guilty’ and asked China to pretty please investigate the Bidens. In front of a group of reporters. Then declared “if they don’t do what we want, we have tremendous power.” In front of a group of reporters. Not a typo. We’ll remind you: right now, the Prez is facing impeachment for pressuring Ukraine to take a magnifying glass to the Bidens. And is now publicly repeating the exact same thing with China. Hi, political chaos.”
Or this, from Sept. 17:
“THE BACKGROUND. For years, you’ve been hearing about Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. You know Netanyahu for leading Israel in the ’90s — then coming back in 2009 for round 2. For swaying Israel faaaar to the right. For being accused of corruption and bribery — charges Israel’s attorney general plans to indict him on. For calling early elections (back in April) largely seen as a referendum on him. Problem, since even though Netanyahu narrowly won the election, he wasn’t able to get a group of political parties together in a coalition. Meaning it’s back to the polls for Israel.”
She calls it the “The Cramm: Giving you the cheatsheet to the world.”
Seltzer composes the newsletter every morning before school, from her bed on her laptop.
With the help of her parents, who shared emails with her to get started, the newsletter enjoyed a gradual increase in subscribers, until a Teen Vogue article about The Cramm hit this summer and her subscription rate took off. She said she gets hundreds of thousands of reads per month, about half of which are outside the United States.
You can sign up to receive the newsletter at www.thecramm.com/sign-up.html.
President’s Donald Trump election in 2016 compelled her to get involved.
“After the election, I felt like I needed to stay in the know with politics all of a sudden,” Seltzer told Noozhawk. “Everyone I knew was being impacted in a very direct way.
“I felt like I needed to do everything I could to inform myself to make sure I did have all the tools I needed to make a difference.”
She was a student at Santa Barbara Junior High at the time, and she said many of her classmates were Hispanic, and had concerns about how a Trump presidency would affect them. She wanted to better understand their fears.
“One of my goals for The Cramm is I see it as a platform for change and a platform for change makers,” Seltzer said. “I see it as kind of being a resource and a tool for young people so they have all the knowledge they need to create change in the world.”
Seltzer wants to major in political science, one day intern on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and eventually become a human rights attorney.
“For me, it’s less about the journalism and more about making sure that young people have access to news in a way that really speaks to them, in a way that they feel like they can read and understand,” she said.
She explained her writing process as imagining how she would distill a story she had read to one of her friends and “write exactly like that.”
“I want it to be as easy as just listening to a conversation with someone else your age,” she said. “I don’t want it to be something where every few sentences you have to look something up.”
It’s quite the feat, especially for someone who describes herself as having always been shy and introverted.
“That is something The Cramm has really helped me with,” she said, noting that her shyness used to make it difficult for her to even order food at restaurants.
When Seltzer was in elementary school, she wanted to be a fiction novelist. In third grade, she wanted to be a poet. In fifth grade, she wrote a 400-page book about female empowerment.
She goes to bed at 9 p.m. and wakes up at 5 a.m. to compose the daily edition of The Cramm.
Seltzer doesn’t report on any local news, instead focusing on national and international news. She doesn’t get a lot of feedback, or requests for corrections, from readers, except for an occasional “Fake news” or “Climate change is a hoax” reply when she curates content about climate change.
She strives for a bias-free report, but she acknowledges that climate change is one of the themes of her newsletter, and she wants people to care about the injustices in the world.
“There are so many people around the world who are actually in very serious danger because of religion, the color of their skin, sexual orientation, or whatever it is,” she said, “and I think that it is the responsibility of every single person on this planet to raise their voice and do everything they can to hopefully help everyone and make sure the world is more socially conscious.”
Seltzer’s father, Aaron, is proud of her.
“I love her writing,” he told Noozhawk. “She writes in a way that is digestible and gives news stories context.”
Even though she’s only 15, she has big plans for The Cramm. She wants to create a media empire, with 24/7 original reporting.
“The Cramm is my favorite thing I do in my life,” she said. “It’s my biggest passion. I would do it if nobody read it. ... I want to do it until the day I die.”