Video explainers engage readers

If you’re a fan of Vox, AJ+, or NowThisNews, you might be familiar with the video explainer. It’s a style of video that typically features a voiceover, outside research, and a topic that you didn’t know you wanted to know about. Here’s a recent example from Vox:

My theory is that the style is popular because it’s highly shareable (I see most of these through Facebook) and because they’re really good at answering questions driven by current events or by curiosity. Whatever the reason, our student audience loves videos like this, and my kids love creating them. Here are two of my favorite examples from this year:

The story of pearl milk tea

Unpleasantries: An explanation of the Bradford pear trees’ scent (12:39 in video)

The basic step-by-step to creating a simple video explainer is:

  1. TOPIC SELECTION: Find a topic that needs further explanation. This might be a new law or policy, an exploding trend, or the history of an issue at the forefront of public discussion.
  2. RESEARCH: Conduct interviews and do broad outside research to thoroughly (and accurately) explain the concept or phenomenon.
  3. WRITE: This is the hard part. Write a script that simplifies the idea for your audience. One of my former students who is now producing videos like this for Vox recommends trying to explain it to a friend or colleague, starting with the word “so.”
  4. PLAN VISUALS: Create a doc with a two-column table. Put your script on the left side and use the column on the right to lay out visual idea (b-roll for your voiceover). This might be video clips, still images, or data visualizations like graphs and charts (bonus points if they’re animated).
  5. CREATE: The last step is to put it all together and educate the masses.

While the video explainer will never replace the basic news package, it’s a great style to add to your repertoire.

Michelle Balmeo

Michelle Balmeo, MJE, is the adviser of El Estoque newsmagazine and news website at Monta Vista High School in Cupertino, Calif. During her 11-year tenure as adviser, the publications have regularly received NSPA’s Pacemaker award and CSPA’s Crown award. She has been selected as CA Journalism Teacher of the Year, a JEA Rising Star, and a DJNF Distinguished Adviser. She was previously the JEA Web Curriculum Leader and currently serves on the board of JEA Northern California.

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