Explainer journalism is the driving force behind sites like Re/Code, recently sold to explainer trailblazer Vox media.
What makes explainer sites different is their focus on the back story of a headlining event, what Ashley Norris calls the ‘How and Why’ in his explanation of explainer journalism on the FIPP website earlier this month. Helping readers understand stories as they develop, putting the ‘Who, What, When, and Where’ of stories into context is the rationale behind explainer journalism.
As Ashley points out, providing background to a fast breaking news story is something that newspapers have done for ever, but what’s new is the use of explainers as a way to differentiate coverage in a world where streaming news is everywhere and publishers are desperate to find a way to stand out from the crowd.
“In most businesses I’ve worked with, people have expected that something like 70 per cent of traffic would be to new content, and the rest to the archive. The reality usually proves to be exactly the other way around.
This is a very different reality of publishing. It suggests that we’re over-weight in publishing what you could call news and significantly under-weight in publishing other types of content that have longer-term value”
This is great news for magazines trying to build their digital presence. Invariably the focus for expert knowledge in their niche, magazine publishers have an incredible opportunity to tap into their readers’ need for deeper understanding of their specialist subject. Building on archive content, they can create extensive expert sections, add infographics, develop interactive charts, encourage conversation and become the go-to place for education and understanding in their niche.
Looking at US explainer journalism sites like Re/code, Vox, The Upshot or FiveThirtyEight, it might seem like it’s only for news junkies, politicos or science and technology geeks, but everyone loves to know more about the things they care about, even if it’s only so they can show off to their friends and family.