May 4, 2014
By Natalie Burg
Roy Peter Clark remembers when his mentor and editor of the St. Petersburg Times Gene Patterson began “preaching for the perfection of an ‘explanatory journalism’” in the 1980s. Clark himself wrote an essay on the topic, “Making Hard Facts Easy Reading” for the Washington Journalism Review in 1984 — the same year Ezra Klein was born.
Listening to online buzz, one might get the idea that Klein, Nate Silver and their contemporaries invented the idea of writing news that explains the news, even though the first Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism was handed out in 1985. Though Klein was quick to clarify in the comments of a recent article by Clark that he isn’t trying to take credit for the existence of explanatory journalism, he and a handful of others are undeniably on the forefront of explanatory journalism’s resurgence. Klein’s Vox, The New York Times’ The Upshot, Bloomberg’s QuickTake, and Silver’s newly re-launched FiveThirtyEight are just the crest of the wave.
What’s behind it? Let us explain.
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