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Explanatory journalism MOOC will teach how to craft journalism that informs and engages audiences

The new year is almost upon us and what better way to get a head start on 2023 than resolving to make the torrent of news more manageable and understandable for your audience?

The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, with support from the Knight Foundation, is organizing a four-week massive open online course (MOOC) on explanatory journalism.

Explain this! How explanatory journalism informs and engages audiences, will run from Jan. 16 to Feb. 12, 2023. Learn more about the course and access instructions on how to register!

Explanatory Journalism MOOC

Students will 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.

“Explanatory journalism is the practice of making complicated subjects clear for readers, providing background and context within news stories or in standalone articles, and of taking on enterprise projects that can make clear how something important works,” said course instructor John O’Neil.

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 an editor with the QuickTake team at Bloomberg News in New York City. QuickTakes are readable, authoritative pages that provide readers with background and context on current events. O’Neil previously worked for The New York Times for 24 years as an editor on the metro, Washington, special sections and news desks. He also led the development of the Times Topics pages into an online current events encyclopedia.

O’Neil will be joined by guest speakers, including Margaret Sullivan, professor at Duke University and former media columnist at The Washington Post; John Wihbey, professor at Northeastern University; S. Mitra Kalita, co-founder of URL Media and Epicenter-NYC; Juliana Barbassa, deputy books editor at The New York Times; Kelsey Butler, equality reporter at Bloomberg News; Lisa Beyer, QuickTake editor at Bloomberg News; Mary Childs, co-host of NPR’s Planet Money; and Zach Mider, features writer at Bloomberg News and winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism.

O’Neil said he chose a mixture of people who have a good overview of the needs for explanatory journalism and how they fit into educating and informing readers, as well as combating disinformation. Other speakers will address some of the challenges with creating explanatory journalism.

The course is open to reporters, editors, students, aspiring journalists, teachers, scientists, historians or other area specialists. All you need is an internet connection and a web browser.

O’Neil emphasized that the MOOC will benefit students who want to improve the level of explanation in their regular work, as well as those who are contemplating taking on longer explanatory projects. People working in adjacent fields, like podcasts or video, are also invited.

Like all Knight Center courses, this MOOC is asynchronous, meaning the activities can be completed on the days and at the times that best suit your schedule. However, there are recommended weekly deadlines so students don’t fall behind.

O’Neil will teach the course using videos, presentations, readings, discussion forums and quizzes.Those who successfully complete course requirements are eligible for a certificate of completion. No formal academic credit is associated with the certificate.

Take this opportunity to make the news clearer and more easily accessible for your readers. Sign up for this exciting new MOOC today!

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