By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Explanatory journalism you can dance to

Back in September, during his first visit to The Washington Post, incoming owner Jeff Bezos identified an online feature called “9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask” as an example of the kind of journalism he likes.

So here we are four months later, and the Post has run a feature called “9 questions about South Sudan you were too embarrassed to ask.” Both pieces were written by foreign-affairs blogger Max Fisher. Like the earlier article, the South Sudan post includes an easy-to-understand explanation of why South Sudan has descended into chaos, how it became a country and — yes — a musical interlude.

The print version, by the way, features only five questions — and, of course, no Queen Zee.

Both the Syria and South Sudan posts are good examples of an old axiom — rather than complaining that what’s important often isn’t interesting, journalists should instead find ways to make the important interesting.

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1 Comment

  1. I hope Aaron Swartz’s friends in the tech and legal communities continue to press for some measure of justice in his tragic case in 2014.

    First, as Mr. Silverglate points out, the federal law used to prosecute Aaron, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act needs to be circumbscribed by Congress so that it doesn’t permit federal prosecutors such as United States Attorney Carmen Ortiz to stretch it to the point of Dickensian legal absurdity.

    Second, the prosecution of Aaron was so egregious that I believe the judicially sealed portions of the internal MIT report detailing the decision-making process within the U.S. Justice Department that led to Aaron’s prosecution should be unsealed. This is because it is necessary to learn whether Ms. Ortiz’s superiors in the U.S. Justice Department, namely, Attorney General Eric Holder, should also be held accountable for their indefensible decision to prosecute criminally Aaron for his efforts to broaden access to scholarly articles for students, researchers, and the broad public, at large, who could not afford to pay the premium fees charged by the JSTOR consortium.

    Finally, I believe that a Congressional investigation into Aaron’s case and the Justice Department’s overall use of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in similar cases because the uncovering of similar investigations and prosecutions may motivate Americans concerned about these First Amendment-related matters to petition their Senators and Representatives in Congress to modify the law so that we are protected by the dubious discretionary decisions made by reckless and politically ambitious federal prosecutors such as Ms. Ortiz.

    If we could persuade Congress to curtail the scope of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to foreclose the possibility for federal prosecutors using this heavy-handed legal tool from criminally prosecuting the idealistic behavior of Americans such as Aaron, then we will be honoring his laudable legacy of expanding access to beneficial scholarly data and information to researchers, teachers, students, and the public, at large.

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