2016 Explanatory Reporting, Small Newsroom finalist

Video Explainers

About the Project

Since our founding in 1999, Grist has made complex environmental issues accessible to new audiences by infusing our reporting with humor and unexpected perspectives. Nowhere is this more evident than in our explanatory journalism. From an on-screen food fight to an unexpected cameo by former President Richard Nixon, this is decidedly not the environmentalism of old.

While Grist has always produced explanatory journalism, it’s only within the past year that we have prioritized the publication of regular explainer videos, designating a small team (a lead writer, video producer, and editor) to focus on this important area. The resulting videos have been cited by media outlets ranging from Mother Jones to The Huffington Post to Glamour, and have attracted millions of views. People aren’t just glancing at Grist explainer videos, either — they’re sticking around for the show, demonstrating real engagement with our content.

When we plan our explainers, we look at two types of topics: First, the fairly dense subjects that people know to be environment-related, and tend to shy away from because they find them difficult to comprehend or just plain boring (e.g. climate conferences, the Clean Power Plan). And second, a whole host of issues that people think and read and talk about all the time, but may not understand as being related to the environment (e.g. clothing, food, racial justice, and women’s rights). Our goal is to make the former category easier to understand (and maybe even fun) and to help our audience recognize how the latter categories are all connected.

And how do we do that? By experimenting with new forms of online media, with a focus on video, including scripted live action, animation, and a heavy pinch of data visualization. We want to reach our audience where they are, and our data indicates that they increasingly look to video and other forms of visual storytelling that translate well to social media.

Grist’s mission as an organization is to give people the information they need to change the world. Our videos have proven to be an important part of our organizational strategy to reach, engage, and inspire new audiences. As a small nonprofit, we have the most impact not just by informing and inspiring our own audience, which is currently 2 million readers per month, but also by forming partnerships with larger outlets. Our video content is the most successful when people don’t think they’re watching content produced by an “environmental website” — we just want them to watch it, learn from it, and have a damn good time along the way.