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It’s not that I haven’t tried to understand what is going on in Ukraine. I have, kind of. But other content keeps getting in the way.
There’s the tech news I need to follow for work. There’s the hard news that I already care about and have been following long enough that I at least understand who the main players are (U.S. politics, for instance). There’s softer news, opinion and blog posts on topics like work-life balance and food. And then there’s the time-wasting stuff that I sometimes can’t resist (a recent BuzzFeed quiz on “which Real Housewife are you?” comes to mind).
I keep meaning to get caught up on everything else, but I’m not even sure what “caught up” means when I often don’t understand the main issues or years of history at hand. And sadly, when it comes to choosing between an article about Syria and an article about dogs on treadmills, I choose dogs every time.
I’m embarrassed about this, but I’m probably not the only person who feels this way. And I hope that former Washington Post Wonkblog editor Ezra Klein’s new site, Vox, can help solve my problem. Saying “there’s no important topic that can’t be made interesting to the audience,” the team behind Vox — which also includes former Wonkblog reporters Dylan Matthews and Melissa Bell, former Slate columnist Matt Yglesias and others — unveiled the site Sunday. Previously known as Project X, it’s launching in partnership with Vox Media, the owner of sites like the Verge and SB Nation. It aims to explain news in a way that most media doesn’t:
“The media is excellent at reporting the news and pretty good at adding commentary atop the news. What’s lacking is an organization genuinely dedicated to explaining the news. That is to say, our end goal isn’t telling you what just happened, or how we feel about what just happened, it’s making sure you understand what just happened.”
And it wants to make the big, hard stories more palatable and approachable to readers:
“In journalism, you’ll sometimes hear articles about hard topics referred to as ‘vegetables’ or ‘the spinach’ — the idea being that readers don’t like those subjects but they should be reading about them anyway. Our view is that there’s no important topic that can’t be made interesting to the audience. If we’re writing about something important — something that matters in people’s lives — and we’ve made it boring then that failure is on us, not on our readers.”
Vox is trying to be the ultimate, trustworthy resource on big issues that readers are already aware of but that can be difficult to penetrate. I’m hoping that it can be for news what the Wirecutter and The Sweethome have been for product reviews — a reliable, neutral and well-sourced one stop shop for explanation of both hard news stories and other issues.
“Explainers” aren’t enough
One of the main early arguments against Vox is that other journalism already explains things clearly. It’s true that the internet certainly isn’t lacking articles and explainers like this one or this one, but right now you still have to go out and search the internet for them, and you may not know what the source’s background is. Again, Wirecutter solves this problem by clearly explaining and linking to its sources — it shows its work so that the reader doesn’t have to gauge the amount of effort that went into a story.
Vox can’t have the final word on every issue. In plenty of cases, I’m still going to want to continue to read the many other sources I was already reading. But for some stories, at least a little well-grounded knowledge is better than none. If Vox accomplishes its mission to “move people from curiosity to understanding,” without requiring large amounts of previous knowledge and legwork on the part of the reader, it could likely be essential everyday reading for me and a lot of other people like me.