2016 Explanatory Reporting, Medium Newsroom finalist

How The Iowa Democratic Caucus Works, Featuring Legos

About the Project

This video is all about audience. It was born of a desire to inform our audience in the most creative, engaging way possible — and the topic matter itself was a result of audience engagement. It is no surprise, then, that it captured not just Vermont Public Radio’s audience, but hundreds of thousands of people around the country and world.

Before VPR sent a team of reporters to preview the Iowa caucuses — and gauge the prospects for our home state candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders — the digital news team put a simple call out to our audience: “VPR is going to Iowa. What do you want to know?”

The response came in the form of more than 100 questions, via email, Facebook, Twitter and reddit, and the the overwhelming message was one of plain confusion: How the heck do the caucuses work?

Instead of writing a text-heavy post, or commissioning an expensive animator, VPR’s Angela Evancie and Taylor Dobbs sourced a motley crew of Legos from station staff (including VPR’s president and CEO), wrote a short script and staged a video shoot between the water cooler and the photo copier. Useful props included post-it notes and Scotch tape.

The resulting two-minute explainer, published primarily as a YouTube video, to maximize social sharing, reached a wider audience than its producers ever imagined, and rose to popularity on sites such as Gawker, Slate and Upworthy. But we are not proud of its virality alone; we are proud of its balance of substance and humor, as well as its ability to both demystify a complex concept and delight everyone from news junkies to elementary school students. We believe this is explanatory reporting at its best.