May 2, 2023

Explain this! Learn explanatory journalism in a self-directed course based on our successful global MOOC

What is explanatory journalism and how can it improve your journalism?

Learn the answers thanks to a free, self-directed online course from the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. This new program is based on the successful massive open online course (MOOC) offered earlier this year that reached more than 3,000 people from 153 countries.

Explain This! Explanatory Journalism MOOC“Explain this! How explanatory journalism informs and engages audiences” is now available to be taken any time, from anywhere, and at your own pace. Check it out today!

In the four modules of this program, students learn how to spot subjects where readers can benefit from explanatory journalism, figure out how to add context and background to clarify the news, and create “persistent content” to fight misinformation.

The course instructor is veteran New York City-based journalist John O’Neil, an editor with Bloomberg News who has developed new formats for explanatory news and is a member of the “Bloomberg QuickTake” team. QuickTakes are readable, authoritative pages that provide readers with background and context on current events.

The modules consist of video classes, presentation slides, transcripts, readings and optional resources.

Each week of the course focuses on a particular module.

  • Module 1 looks at what content benefits from an explanatory approach and the tools at our disposal to help readers make sense of it.
  • Module 2 teaches how to spot holes in articles, and how to craft brief asides, as well as how to add bigger explanatory pieces into your articles.
  • Module 3 covers sidebars and standalones, including creating explainers that can be reused later, and that can fight disinformation.
  • Module 4 looks at longform and enterprise explanatory pieces, including incorporating graphics and data. It will also discuss taking advantage of social media.

O’Neil is also joined by guest speakers, including:

  • S. Mitra Kalita, co-founder of URL Media and Epicenter-NYC; 
  • Juliana Barbassa, deputy books editor and former Latin America editor at The New York Times;
  • Kelsey Butler, equality reporter and former credits market reporter for Bloomberg News;
  • Lisa Beyer, QuickTake editor at Bloomberg News;
  • Mary Childs, co-host of NPR’s Planet Money;
  • Kenneth Chang, science reporter at The New York Times;
  • Thomas Lin, editor-in-chief of Quanta magazine; and 
  • Zach Mider, features writer at Bloomberg News and winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism.

“Explain This” was initially offered as a massive open online course (MOOC) and ran from Jan. 16 to Feb. 12, 2023. It attracted 3,284 students and was offered for free thanks to support from the Knight Foundation.

“‘Explain This’ drew together a community of over 3,000 students from more than 150 countries, a group that included writers and editors in large newsrooms, freelancers, journalism professors and people writing for non-profits and even public relations firms,” O’Neil said. “In the online discussions this diverse group voiced a common belief — that improving their ability to explain the things they’re writing about (or making videos, podcasts or graphics about) is essential to serving readers, especially at a time of increased misinformation.”

Katerina Bakogianni, head of podcasts at Alter Ego Media, said she signed up for the course while developing the first daily news podcast in Greece, “a daily explainer and an in-depth look on current issues or articles highlighted in print in the newspaper of our media group.”

“I found the course useful, to the point and passed all the information to the team working for the podcast,” she said.

MOOCs offer interaction with instructors and attract thousands of students. Once a MOOC is over, the Knight Center repurposes them as self-directed courses that can be taken at any time, from anywhere in the world, and at the student’s own pace. While MOOCs are open only for a relatively short period of time, self-directed courses are open indefinitely and can be accessed by students who need a refresher or are coming to the topic for the first time.

So, enhance your journalism skills by taking this exciting self-directed course on explanatory journalism today! And while you’re at journalismcourses.org, check out our extensive library of multilingual self-directed courses on topics like mental health, covering the climate crisis, entrepreneurial journalism, and more.