Bloomberg gets into rapid-fire explainer journalism with breaking Q&As
Negative interest rates. Corporate inversion. The monthly job report. If you asked the media world to rank the country's sexiest stories, most journalists would probably put these pretty low on their list (with some exceptions).
But at Bloomberg, the worldwide bastion of finance wonks, these topics are fodder for the company's QuickTakes team, which has been writing Vox-style explainers for the last three years.
"But I think we do it more with a Bloomberg twist," said Leah Harrison Singer, the editor of Bloomberg's QuickTakes. "We take on topics where Bloomberg has significant depth of reporting and expertise — things like central banking and economic stories."
Singer and her team, a handful of journalists scattered throughout the globe, work with Bloomberg's more than 2,400 journalists worldwide to produce explainers that run about 650-words and span a variety of topics: The dynamics of oil pricing, the heirs to Al-Qaeda, the nuances of Puerto Rican debt. Since 2013, the team has produced 300 explainers, which have been published in a semi-annual book.
And Bloomberg is also tackling stories that aren't the stuff of boardrooms and C-suites. Recently, the team added an editor based in Washington, D.C. who's been helping the team produce fast-twitch Q&As on subjects right off the news: The recent attack in Nice, the coup in Turkey and police shootings in America.
The team, Singer says, can punch above its weight because it can leverage the financial news giant's global network of journalists for their expertise.
"All of the quick-take explainers are written by the subject-area experts in those areas," Singer said. "So the guy in France who covers terrorism did the Q&A on the Nice truck attack."
To some, explainer journalism is now synonymous with Vox.com, the site cofounded by Ezra Klein and Melissa Bell in 2014. While QuickTakes predates Vox.com slightly, both are part of a turn toward journalism that is less beholden to the day-in-day-out whims of the breaking news cycle, according to a recent report from The Brookings Institution.
The report notes that these explainers are nothing new (the Pulitzers have had an explanatory journalism category since 1998) but that they serve as a counterweight to today's much-accelerated news cycle.
Explanatory journalism aspires to provide essential context to the hourly flood of news—not simply a separate fact-checking operation but the mobilization of a rich array of relevant information made possible by new technology but presented to the public in accessible and digestible formats.
The "evergreen" quality of the QuickTakes stories is evident whenever a topic they've explained before surfaces in the news again, Singer said. A sizeable proportion of QuickTakes traffic comes from search, and she often notices people sharing older explainers on social media weeks after their initial publication date.
As is custom with Bloomberg, the company's terminal subscribers get first dibs on the explainer content. But the team also makes the quick takes available for free on the web and makes them available for syndication.
Singer also works with Bloomberg's multimedia team to produce explanatory videos that illustrate the topics with motion graphics. They're published on YouTube, embedded in the stories and serve to achieve what might be Singer's greatest feat: Getting (some) children interested in the realms of high finance and global affairs.
"They're really great," she said. "My kids really love them."