Formulating the inception of his candidacy for Greenburgh town supervisor on transparency, open government and municipal participation, candidate Lucas Cioffi, a resident of Edgemont, created and launched the Greenburgh Civic News Feed, a news aggregator that pulls from 25 local news sources and is updated hourly.
The news feed is being built iteratively, with residents still recommending new sources for Cioffi to add to his aggregator. By the project’s conclusion, Cioffi estimates the aggregator will amass information from between 50 and 75 sources.
“I wanted to make sure all voices and opinions in Greenburgh can be heard a little bit better,” said Cioffi. “The first thing with [this] campaign is [to] give people more situational awareness of what’s going on in Greenburgh.”
The news feed, which launched on June 14 and has garnered 159 page hits since its creation, has also helped Cioffi in researching the Greenburgh community — where he looks to find common problems with common solutions for residents. The news feed is housed on his candidacy website.
“It’s really helpful for me as a candidate,” said Cioffi. “It saves me a lot of time when I look at it just to see what’s going on across town.”
Cioffi, who works as a full-time software developer, had been building the tool for the past few years, originally developing it for his entrepreneurial ventures and to collect sources for the Civic Tech News Feed, which aggregates more than 800 nonprofits, government sources, start-ups and media outlets that post about open government and civic technology.
Believing that not all of Greenburgh’s 90,000 residents were getting the full picture of what was happening in their town, Cioffi sought to integrate the news gatherer to solve the information absence and to “aggregate all the voices.”
“My opponent sends an email newsletter out each day to thousands of people in Greenburgh, but it only covers the town in a favorable light,” said Cioffi about Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner’s current newsletters to residents. “This Greenburgh civic news feed aggregates all news and opinions from all available sources — including [Feiner’s] — so we can hear from everyone about what’s working and what isn’t at the town level.”
Since September of 2002, Supervisor Feiner has been posting reports from his office on the Greenburgh Town website, even reposting reports that were released as early as 1999.
“I use the town website to highlight initiatives the town is taking, to advertise town programs, to highlight people who are doing great things in the town, to answer questions that residents have, to keep people informed and to encourage people to feel comfortable reaching out to me when they have problems that I can assist them with,” wrote Feiner in an email to the Inquirer. “I encourage you to look at some of the old supervisor’s reports. You’ll see that the site is used to provide info, to engage residents, to inform, [and] to be transparent.”
Feiner said he also uses the website to test concepts, encourage feedback and ask residents for their thoughts when he is unsure about particular issues.
“I think the more info people receive about the town the better,” said Feiner about Cioffi’s news feed. “Mr. Cioffi’s site provides residents with differing views about the town from our critics and there is nothing wrong with that.”
Feiner further stated that he uses the current e-list newsletter to solicit feedback on controversial issues and will share responses from both sides of the aisle.
The 28-year incumbent said the town is currently working to update the town’s website and department heads are reviewing the site.
“I anticipate the site will be live this month or next month at the latest,” said Feiner. “The site will have less clutter and more options for residents … we spent over a year working on this site and [I] am very excited about its launch.”
Cioffi said he is looking to build upon the news feed he created by adding a newsletter accessory to the aggregator, which will allow residents to be notified of tagged content they may be interested in. The newsletter concept would act as a way “to reduce the amount of noise and to create a more efficient newsletter than the one the town government currently uses,” Cioffi said.
Cioffi said he believes the current town newsletter provides updates to residents that are not necessarily relevant to them, which decreases engagement.
Using modern technologies, Cioffi wants to make the experience more efficient and enjoyable for residents.
“I think it will allow the news to get out a lot easier,” he said.