We’re cooking up a new project here at Grist, and I’d like to ask for your feedback and your help spreading the word about it.

When I came to Grist, as someone who was admittedly not an environmental-news specialist, I started looking around for a website or service that would show me, at a glance, a frequently updated selection of the trending headlines, news items and commentaries in the field. I was used to having this kind of tool at my disposal from my work in tech news, where Techmeme has been filling this need since 2005, and in political news, where Techmeme’s sister site Memeorandum has long done the same.

These sites are driven largely by machine — in other words, algorithms scan a flood of links and RSS items and tweets and draw up a portrait of the news and the conversation around it from a set of carefully selected sources. Human editors intercede at times to fix stuff the algorithm got wrong or to override its judgment with a more nuanced human-editorial hand. It’s cyborg journalism — not a replacement for original reporting, to be sure, but a highly useful adjunct.

I looked, but as far as I could tell, a green version of Techmeme didn’t seem to exist. That left us with only one choice: We’d have to build it ourselves. And we’re planning to!

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When we’re up and running, you’ll be able to come to Grist at any hour of the day or night and scan a list of headlines and links to the newest and most important stories on the Web about sustainability, climate, cities, food, and other green issues. What news stories are brewing? What opinion pieces and blog posts are raising a ruckus? What are people talking about on Twitter and Facebook?

Our plan is to write the necessary software to power the back end of this service for Grist, and simultaneously share that software under open-source license for other people and organizations to use for their own needs. So the same technology that we’re using at Grist could, say, get put to use by science bloggers or activists for human rights in China.

To make this work possible, we’ve submitted this idea to the Knight Foundation’s Knight News Challenge, and this is where we could use your help.

If you head on over to the Tumblr site where the Knight people are collecting and posting applications, you can read our pitch. If you have a comment for us, you can post it there. And if you like our idea, you can like it there too — or reblog it if you’re a Tumblr type yourself.

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Knight wants to see what kind of support we can drum up from you, our community. So if our Fast Green News Machine sounds like something you’d want to use and you want Grist to create it, give us a hand. Thanks!

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