Crash Courses on Complicated Subjects

You’ve heard me say it again and again: explanation is our franchise. And a complicated story you might have heard of lately — the debt ceiling debate — is one that could use some explaining. A few news organizations have done this really well, and I rounded up the examples.

The lesson here? When there are complicated subjects or news quagmires going on in your state, on your beat, establish authority and credibility by breaking it down for people. Your best explanations can then be transferred over to your topics page on the subject.

Everything you need to know about the debt ceiling in one post
Washington Post

There’s a lot to love about this breakdown, but what works for me is the way it’s structured into sub-headed chunks addressing those key 5 W’s and an H we learned about in journalism school. The authors give us one simple paragraph on what readers need to know — what it is, where it came from, why it’s an issue and most importantly, what happens if Congress doesn’t raise the roof, er, ceiling. Impact is a key part of what this post is addressing, after explaining to folks what the debt ceiling is in the first place.

Q. and A. on the Debt Ceiling

The New York Times

“Now, palms in Washington are beginning to get sweaty and President Obama is breaking into “The Bachelorette” to address the nation about the debt crisis,” the authors write. “Perhaps the time has finally come for a crash course in all things debt ceiling.” And they give us this crash course in the form of questions and answers, a useful tool for you, too, to focus your explanations and think about the reader first — what basic questions do you need to answer for someone who hasn’t paid attention to every twist and turn?

Raising the Debt Limit, Explained
Yahoo! News

Former Congressional Budget Office head Douglas Holtz-Eakin goes old school — charts on a white board — and uses his knowledge and some colorful drawings to explain the impending crisis. I point this one out because you, too, could do something like this, and if it’s done well, it could very well go viral.

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