By Wael Gamal
You may have heard about ‘the Brazilian experiment’ or ‘the Turkish experiment’ from the debates between different candidates during the 2012 presidential elections campaigns in these countries. But most of those who have heard about this do not know Lula da Silva or Recep Tayyip Erdogan .
Many people heard about several warnings of the disaster that hit the Egyptian economy due to the decline in the stock market, but do they know what is the stock market is all about or the mechanisms on which it works? Do they know how the stock market affects their life even if they have not invested their money in it? Even if the answer is yes…do they know in what way?
A newspaper reader in Fayoum may have read that parliament is about to approve the state budget for the new fiscal year and that it will be is the largest budget in the history of Egypt. But does he know that this budget will determine whether or not his own street will be paved? Is it clear to him what the relation is between the budget and the taxes he pays? Or that it will raise or lower the price of his cigarettes? Also, does he know how to make his voice heard or taken into account during the process of budget approval or modification?
Such small points and thousands of other ones, are not clear or understandable to most of the people who really want to understand the developments they are confronted with as citizens and who want to participate and take positions in public life.
Unfortunately our media does not present them these information in an accessible form and in clear language.
Huge supply and low demand versus a large demand and a small supply:
Thing are getting more complicated with the madly growing number of news sources pouring down from everywhere on us Egyptians, especially after the revolution: from social networks , mobile phones, from newspapers and a growing number of TV channels, and radio stations . Not only that, the same news comes in contradictory messages most of the time, and is often based on information and theories or laws or references on complex issues unknown to ordinary readers that may differ or contradict each other. This has led, and continues to lead to a declining number of people that economic news and buy newspapers.
On the other hand , in the face of the huge demand to understand , sometimes the citizens themselves try to search online or collect stories and news reports and sources themselves (which is the primary work of journalists ) in order to be able to judge things . In this area there is a chance, and a duty, too, to the press and journalists to capture the attention of the masses of consumers of news and journalism to respond to this growing demand for understanding.
Several international newspapers and news agencies have now started to provide this service to their readers and customers. The New York Times introduced a special service under the title of ‘Upshot’ and then Bloomberg’s specialized financial service introduced ‘Quick Take’. Most of the websites of major newspapers have launched online interactive services and videos belong to this old/new category of the press, in response to the growing demand on it. Even the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in journalism has introduced an annual award for it in 1985.
But what does explanatory journalism exactly mean? Is there room for it? Are not all the stories, news reporting, even if a small news item, including elements of the context and significance and backgrounds? What is the difference between this and explanatory journalism? b
What is the explanatory journalism?
A topic that belongs to the explanatory journalism, is a topic that deals with important questions, which usually seem complicated and poorly understood and that converts these questions into answers that can be easily understood. Another definition is that it is a form of press coverage, which tries to present news stories in a more accessible way, so that they can be understood and appreciated by a larger audience.
This type of journalism is not new, of course. Magazines, newspapers and even talk show programs in Egypt have routinely provided photographs and illustrations and graphs, and even the Egyptian press, – though not often- has given background information and context to the news. But the complexity of public life and peoples’ growing interest in it has increased the significance of this type of journalism in particular.
For example, the story that Bisan Kassab wrote for the “Egyptian Voices” website under the title “the auditing organisations in Egypt; who audits who?“, made an attempt to answer questions regarding the role of the organisations involved in combating corruption and their power in the light of the statements that Hisham Geneina, head of the Central Auditing Organization recently made about certain practices in some of the governmental agencies. http://www.aswatmasriya.com/news/view.aspx?id=ddd6ef13-11c7-4f9b-bd86-95396a4769c3
On another topic , Mohammed Abulgheit dissected the information on a device that detects and cures the hepatitis C virus, which was announced by a scientific team under the supervision of the armed forces , an announcement that aroused scientific and political controversy. His story gave simple answers about the scientific development of the device and its significance; how it works, etc. using the basic documents of the device and other sources.
Explanatory journalism topics can have several shapes: articles, diagrams, info-graphs, boxes with information, chronology- and timelines, cartoons, videos, etc.
Basic elements in the explanatory journalism:
95% of the work done by a journalist working on a subject of explanatory journalism does not show itself to the reader, this work is done on behalf of the reader or listener or viewer. According to the American investigative journalist Charles Wilson, this is an essential element of this category[i]:
1 -In depth research and the collection of background information : The first step is the collection of relevant background information on a subject in then assemble the collection of detailed information in all its aspects, so the right questions can be asked and not necessarily the answer to all questions .
2 – Find the experts: after the collection of information, search for experts who can assist in directing research and validate information and improve understanding. Here, we must be very careful with the term “experts”. They must have specific and proven scientific experience in his area of expertise. Usually, they should have specific production and attributions in their specialities. You should always check the data you get from them and present it to others and assess their position on neutrality and balance and their prior positions: a scientific attitude does not mean absence of a political or social bias. And thus the journalist has to take this into his account.
3 – Choose the form of writing and the relentless scrutiny of information: Experts will lead you to more information, research pieces and documents, which will expand the initial research. The question, according to Wilson will be: How can I write this topic in the most accurate and scientific way but at the same time in the most simple and easy style in order to be digested by the average citizen? At this stage, the reporter can always work with sources of researchers to purify and improve and re- checking the article. In the writing it is always advised to start with simple and small points without attempting to explain everything at the first moment. It is also advisable to cover all aspects of the subject and to distribute the details in order to be digestible and find clever ways to detect it is slowly in order to attract the attention of the citizen.
“Without agreement on the facts, the opinions will be non-solid evidenced. The controversy and public debate on everything from foreign policy, the federal budget can break and end in failure due to the insufficient facts of events”.
Thomas Patterson, the book “Informing the News, The Need For Knowledge-Based Journalism,” New York, Vintage Books 2013[ii]
[ii] ُThomas Patterson, Informing The News, The Need For Knowledge-Based Journalism, New York, Vintage Books, 2013