ProPublica explains Super PACs with song

Super PACS have become an important -- but at times confusing -- part of this year's election. Hoping to explain them, ProPublica published a song that describes what Super PACs are, how they affect candidates and why they’re controversial.

“I remember back in January reading about how at the debates, even the moderators -- based on the questions they were asking -- didn't seem to fully grasp what a Super PAC was,” said David Holmes, a freelancer who wrote the music and the lyrics for the video with Andrew Bean. “It seemed like one of those issues that everyone was talking about, but there was still a lot of confusion about how they work.”

Holmes and Bean worked on the song with Krishnan Vasudevan, who animated the film, and Sharon Shattuck, who helped with the animation and created the song's graphics. The four of them formulated a pitch, and then Bean and Vasudevan went to ProPublica’s newsroom to pitch it in person.

The song, which is set to a '70s tune, features psychedelic graphics that illustrate the chorus:

"Super PACs and politics the spending is ferocious / But Super PACs are here to stay expect a lot of dough kid / Use your cash to start a PAC just like Karl Rove did / Give me all your money but let's not talk about it"

One of the challenges Holmes faced was figuring out how to include enough information in the lyrics without overwhelming listeners. For help, he looked at Super PAC explainers from ProPublica, Mother Jones and The Atlantic.

Holmes, who was a journalism student in New York University’s Studio 20 Program and graduated last December, has created two other explainers for ProPublica -- one about redistricting and another about hydraulic fractured drilling.

Explainers are valuable resources for readers who want help making sense of complicated subject matters or stories of great magnitude. As NYU's Jay Rosen told me last year, explainers are “acts of empathy” for non-specialists; they anticipate the questions “regular” users are going to have and answer them.

Holmes plans to using his musical skills to create explainers that offer readers clarity.

“I think it’s important for people to be making the explainers and to keep making them.  Explanatory journalism is not a fad, or just the latest thing the journalism 2.0 people are talking about," Holmes said. "I think it really gets at the heart of what journalism is supposed to be about -- it’s supposed to educate people, it's supposed to tell people about the world they're living in.”

You can watch the video here:

Related: What journalists need to know about Super PAC ads

  • Mallary Jean Tenore

    As managing editor of The Poynter Institute’s website,, I report on the media news industry, edit the site’s How To section, and moderate the site's live chats. I also help handle the site's social media efforts, and teach social media sessions on the side.


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