There is, finally, a news organization that is leading the way in meaningful explanatory journalism with limited bias (more on that later).
Vox has been around for just a few months, and it’s already one of my three daily must-reads (behind the New York Times and now just ahead of the Verge). Ezra Klein and his crew have so far done a masterful job writing for the digital age. It’s a model all writers should look at closely.
It’s really a simple plan that old schoolers (like me) have scoffed at for years: Take the most interesting issues of the day and explain them --- don’t just tell me about them.
I find myself going there to read the analysis of some very smart people. The “explained in two minutes” feature is tailored for the time-pressed, limited attention span generation that wants everything fast and now. I sought out Vox when I wanted to know more about the Islamic State of Iraq (ISIS) and the current crisis there. Same when I wanted to know more about Boko Haram. I looked for information on Vox.
I sought out Vox because I knew I would get context --- a missing element in most legacy journalism writing today. People just don’t want to know that something has happened. They want to know why and what it means, and they want the information in an easily digestible format. Regardless of what you think of BuzzFeed, it has shown us the wisdom of lists. Vox has picked up on that.
Earlier, I said Vox is achieving its goals with “limited” bias. I don’t think you can write in an explanatory way without your own biases --- conscious or otherwise --- seeping in. For example, in an excellent explainer on health care, the author noted one out of every six dollars is spent on healthcare, and “that’s a lot of dollars.” Well, maybe some people don’t think it is, or maybe it’s just right.
But that doesn’t bother me. Vox, it seems, is smart enough to realize that non-bias and objectivity have always been a journalistic fantasy. It’s something that legacy journalists strive for but is rarely attained. Just check some of the wording and cues in news story sentences. Journalists often write that an incident is horrific, dumb, questionable, etc. That’s certainly leading. Vox also realizes its audience is smart enough to form its own opinions, despite what it writes. Vox’s job, it appears, is to explain and inform, and then let its audience make its own decisions. Love that approach.
Vox is not perfect, and no one should expect a venture so young to be even close. For example, I could do without the opinionated headlines (Israeli’s occupation of the West Bank is wrong), but hey, maybe that’s an experiment. I generally ignore that anyway.
The Vox way is something that all legacy newsrooms should pay close attention to. Don’t just tell your readers that something has happened. Tell them why it did, why it’s important, and why they should care. Otherwise, your audience declines will accelerate as other digital platforms mirror Vox’s model.
Check out this interview with Ezra Klein for more information on his vision for Vox. For the records, I don’t know anyone associated with the publication