I love the way good ideas sometimes seem to just float around, waiting to be pulled down and prototyped. I pitched my "explainer archive" to the Knight Fellowship last year, which means the folks at Propublica and NYU's Studio 20 were probably thinking about the same thing at the same time.
Last week, ProPublica and Studio 20 launched explainer.net. The idea behind the site is to explore how we can use the Web to do better explanatory journalism. I can't argue with that: it's what Marketplace and the Marketplace Whiteboard are all about.
ProPublica launched a podcast today that talks about the project. ProPublica's Mike Webb and Eric Umansky discussed explainer.net with NYU's Jay Rosen, and they make a very flattering reference to the very first Whiteboard:
Jay: One of the things we already found, Mike, is that just by announcing this project this week, which we didn't mention; we have found other people who are very interested in this, who want to contribute to it. Because as I said earlier, this is a problem in the news system as a whole that many people recognize.
There's a fellow at the Knight Fellows Program at Stanford University who is devoting his entire fellowship year to this problem, who emerged when we announced it. Another thing that the students are doing is they're extending the search across a very broad cultural space for people who can contribute to this project.
And for this kind of effort, I think ProPublica, being a nonâ€‘profit and having such a strong interest in not just producing journalism, but educating journalism to be better, is the perfect partner.
Eric: And by the way, just to interject for a second. The guy you just mentioned, at Stanford, who is doing the Knight Fellowship, his name is Paddy Hirsch.
Just to take it all to a careful circle, Paddy Hirsch is one of the producer's at Marketplace radio.
Eric: Marketplace Radio, which not only does great work generally, but did the single best explainer that I have seen ever...
Mike: Most definitely.
Eric:...explaining collateralized debt obligations.
Mike: We're going to have to send that to you, Jay.
Eric: Yeah, Paddy Hirsch did the [best] video. He did it as writing on a whiteboard. And he actually turned it into a series, I think. A semi-regular series where he called it "The Whiteboard" or something, and each week he would have a new, just a two or three minute video explaining some other complex part of Wall Street and economics. In fact, it was such a great video that we have linked to it in just about every story that we've done on CDOs.
I'm talking with some of the people at ProPublica tomorrow, and hoping that we'll be able to work together on this project: the possibilities for enlightenment are immense!