Is Explainer Journalism A Fad That Is Already Fading?

Are you familiar with explainer journalism? If not, let me give you a quick crash course — you take a complex or sometimes a non-complex issue in the news, use charts, graphs, and graphics to simplify it to terms understandable by the general public, and then add some language to help explain what you are looking at on your screen.

The idea is quite simple, though very few newspapers, online media outlets, or television stations did the basic explanation of stories for many years as budgets have been cut and editors and reporters laid off.

That has somewhat changed in the last year or two as explainer journalism sites have been popping up like crazy. One of the sites, Vox — the brainchild of former Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein — was the focus of a story on Politico Saturday morning (August 23).

Basically, the political news site of all political news sites said Vox and FiveThirtyEight — a former blog started by statistician Nate Silver that eventually went to The New York Times before being bought outright by ESPN — are both disappointments.

“Five months into his project, however, many journalists and news executives find themselves in need of an explanation to help them understand what makes Vox different from other news websites.

“For all the talk about reinventing the wheel, they say, Vox has yet to live up to the lofty expectations that were set by its proprietor. Some argue that, far from a radical reinvention of journalism, it’s closer to a redeployment of the old models: three parts Wonkblog — the blog he had at The Post, which explained current events and policy debates through charts and data — and one part Wikipedia, with “explainers” on big issues like ISIS and the Ebola outbreak.”

Yeah, basically the premise of the story is that there is nothing unique or unusual about Vox except that Vox is drawing more traffic than its explainer journalism cousin FiveThirtyEight, no mighty feat considering the backing of ESPN and its substantial online audience.

Over at Digiday, they tried to explain why there has been a sudden interest in explainer journalism sites like Vox and FiveThirtyEight.


“But the newfound interest in Web-based explanatory journalism is also aimed at making the Web more authoritative. The Internet has given rise to numerous digital publications and, for better or worse, voice to anyone with a dial-up and a keyboard. The downside of the Web’s democratic design is it allows for the quick dissemination of misinformation.”

While that may be a noble mission, websites like Vox are going to have to stand out in the online world if they are going to succeed. And if the Politico article is any indication, that may be a challenge even for the most talked about and promoted sites.

If you’d like to see the type of reporting done by Vox, click on over to this Inquisitr article about Vox‘s reasons war is not needed.

[Image via Flickr Creative Commons]