Newsbound is a startup creating news explainers in a unique visual format. I interviewed their Explainer-in-Chief last year. Newsbound founder Josh Kalven recently wrote about the need for explainers in the news and specifically, what’s missing from their use:
But looking across the explanatory landscape, there’s a glaring problem. While the news industry is investing in topic-based explainers, it’s regularly failing to get the return it deserves. This isn’t due to lack of demand. News consumers are as hungry as ever for context and backstory. The problem is in the presentation.Too often we treat explainers like just another drop in the river of news. They should be the rocks that the river runs past.
I think that last sentence really nails it. Explainer content in the style of Newsbound and Common Craft are usually stand-alone resources that can be used anywhere. They’re designed to give the audience a way to get up-to-speed quickly regarding the big ideas of a specific topic. They are meant to enhance other content.
It seems logical that if you’re writing an article about drone warfare - you’d want to include a ready-made explainer that sets the stage. The same is true if you’re writing about technology. Explainers are the rocks - the evergreen content that provides the baseline that your ideas flow over. It’s a valuable service for readers.
But as Kalven points out, explainers aren’t being used that way. For example, The Atlantic and BBC have started created amazing explainer videos on topics like climate change and energy and the Mars rover mission. But when an article discusses these subjects after the explainers are published, there is not usually connection between them. It’s a missed opportunity to repurpose valuable content that’s designed to be evergreen.
While our focus at Common Craft is on explainers in education and training, I’m fascinated by the use of explainers in the news because I think the potential is so great. People need better ways to understand the news and it will be interesting to see how it evolves. As Jay Rosen has pointed out, explanations make people customers of news and that's a good thing. Kalven:
When it comes to how we design those explanations, there is lots more experimentation and imagination needed in the coming years.But it will all be for nothing if we let the final product float downstream.