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Brief Published: 10 Jul 2014

Rise of Explainer Journalism

Screenshot from a video essay on Delve.tv

The recent explosion of ‘explainer journalism’ – which builds stories from data, seeking to expose the statistic-driven trends beneath the news – grew out of the success of American writer Nate Silver’s uncannily accurate predictions about the outcome of US elections. He described his approach to storytelling in more detail in his influential book The Signal and the Noise, and launched his own standalone explainer site FiveThirtyEight in March 2014 – inspiring a host of others in the process.

The New York Times, which once hosted Silver’s blog, responded to his departure by creating a new explainer site called The Upshot in April 2014. Meanwhile, US journalist Ezra Klein followed Silver’s example, leaving his explainer site Wonkblog – hosted by the Wall Street Journal – to launch his own Vox platform in April this year. Add to this mix US magazine Bloomberg Businessweek’s own QuickTake site, and the explainer journalism world is starting to get very crowded.

Is this just a fad? US tech blog GigaOm commented: “Explanatory journalism may be the secret to success for one site, but it likely won’t be for half a dozen or more.”

One way in which these sites could evolve is by focusing less on the news angle and more on the explainer side of their storytelling. As UK media blog Journalism.co.uk pointed out, current media is “overweight in publishing what you could call ‘news’ and significantly underweight in publishing other types of content that have longer-term value. That’s what this ‘explainer journalism’ trend really represents”.

A new site created by UK video journalist Adam Westbrook points to one direction this trend could go in. His Delve.tv platform showcases a new “video essay” every month that aims to make “complex ideas fascinating”. As UK media blog The Media Briefing points out, Westbrook has grown a considerable audience for Delve.tv in just six months – “almost half a million video plays, 7,500 likes and comments, and 2,500 social media interactions”.

However it evolves, explainer journalism is emblematic of a growing desire among readers for more depth and context in news analysis. For consumers at large, it taps into a wider trend of seeking a better understanding of how the world works – a trend explored in our Cannes Lions report, The Brains Behind Better Ads.