"What is marijuana?" Vox.com asks today, ready to seriously answer that question for anyone who's not sure. Ezra Klein's newly-launched site, which aims to report and explain the news in a way that's unlike anything we've ever seen before, sometimes looks a lot like the web staples of yesteryear. Vox launched on Sunday, and Klein says the goal is to make the news more digestible by roasting it "to perfection with a drizzle of olive oil and hint of sea salt."
In an attempt to catch everyone up on everything, Vox provides us with title cards like "What is an Easter egg?" and "How do you board a train?" While Klein calls these "Vox Cards" a core part of the site, they don't seem to provide any information that you can't get on Wikipedia or About.com. Referring to the "What is marijuana?" card, Buzzfeed's Ayesha Siddiqi notes, "Vox is Wikipedia with the self perception of Rap Genius." Complex asks, "Is Vox.com just a fancy Wikipedia or nah?"
This isn't Vox's fault. Redefining journalism, it turns out, is actually really hard. At The Wire, we try to find new ways to present the news all the time. Some attempts work, some don't. Vox's Sound of Music-style, "let's start at the very beginning" approach to explainers might not stick to the wall.
For example, Vox's card "Is it 'Ukraine' or 'the Ukraine'?" written by Max Fisher might help direct traffic from Google, but About.com's Kerry Kubilius already answered the question. Here's the comparison:
And the Hairpin's Jia Tolentino is pretty sure she already answered that marijuana Q ("what is it") for eHow.
While Actually Journalism might just seem silly, it can also be misleading. Once you break down everything into its simplest parts, you lose important details and nuance, which Vox co-founder Matt Yglesias found out after a his video explainer on debt came under fire from conservatives last month. Yglesias wasn't clear about the difference between the national debt and U.S. public debt in his quick, 90-second explanation.
In a note to readers on Monday, Klein, Yglesias, and co-founder Melissa Bell explain (heh) that the site is a "work in progress." They write,
We’re launching this fast for one simple reason: there is no better way to figure out the best way to do explanatory journalism on the web than to do explanatory journalism on the web.
We have some exciting ideas about how to do a better job explaining the news. But right now, those ideas are untested with the audience. And that's the only test that matters. Our theory is simple: the quicker we can launch, the quicker we can start learning — and start improving.
If you're still wondering, marijuana is "a psychoactive drug, meaning it's a chemical substance that affects behavior and mood."