Previous: Going Home with Alaska and Miles
Next: Writing and Marriage Advice from Michelle Obama



View count:266,117
Last sync:2024-05-07 18:45


Citation formatting is not guaranteed to be accurate.
MLA Full: "Why We Stopped Making Explainers: EXPLAINED." YouTube, uploaded by vlogbrothers, 15 March 2019,
MLA Inline: (vlogbrothers, 2019)
APA Full: vlogbrothers. (2019, March 15). Why We Stopped Making Explainers: EXPLAINED [Video]. YouTube.
APA Inline: (vlogbrothers, 2019)
Chicago Full: vlogbrothers, "Why We Stopped Making Explainers: EXPLAINED.", March 15, 2019, YouTube, 03:56,
There was a time when we thought we were going to move our explainers off of our main channel and build a business making just explainers. But it turns out they're just tremendously difficult and expensive to make, especially when you don't have the charisma of a known and trusted face to fall back on in the moments when you don't have full-screen graphics.

That project, sadly, died in favor of us spending more time on Crash Course and SciShow.

I think it's very important to understand what a powerful rhetorical tool an "explainer" can be when it is used to convince rather than explain, and how easy it is to make a bad explainer and have relatively few people notice.

It's also really important to ask ourselves why we trust the voices we trust, how that trust was earned, and constantly examine whether that trust is worthwhile. There are many ways to get information right now, and we can and SHOULD be very choosy!

Subscribe to our newsletter!
And join the community at
Help transcribe videos -
John's twitter -
Hank's twitter -
Hank's tumblr -
Listen to The Anthropocene Reviewed at
Listen to Dear Hank and John at
Hank: Good morning, John. It was October 26th, 2007 and you were explaining the political situation in Nepal while eating toilet paper.
John (mid-eating toilet paper): Nobody has Maoist rebels anymore.
Hank: It set the tone for a decade plus of us doing explainy-type videos on this channel. 
Brazil? Absolutely! Israel and Palestine? Yeah, we got that! Syria, since it started existing? Hundred percent- let's do it twice.
Also, why not take on stuff in our own country- mass incarceration, net neutrality, Benghazi, tax plans.
This has been a thing for the whole life of our channel- some of our most successful content, people like it, we're pretty good at it. But, we have kind of stopped doing it, and I started to wonder... why that happened?
It wasn't a thing, we didn't talk about it, we just... stopped.
Now you could say that your recent video about textbooks was an explainer, you could say my recent video about copyright was.
But here's why I think those aren't explainers- because they don't have the word 'explained' in them, and they are clearly our perspective.
The word 'explained!' to me says, "This is going to be my honest to God, best effort attempt to actually explain this thing, not to just tell the story that works best for me."
Cause that's the thing about explainers- if you are tasked with giving somebody the whole story of this thing up until now, there's a huge amount of information you have to pick from, you are only going to pick some of it, and there is going to be a strong urge to pick the bits that tell the best story for you.
It is the ultimate opportunity to shape a narrative, and a story that's gonna be most compelling is probably gonna be one that meshes well with your values and your biases and also those of your audience.
It's an extremely easy thing to do badly, and also have people not notice how badly you did.
I am not saying explainers are bad- honestly I'm a little bit proud of whatever role we had in the rise of this format, cause I think it's really important.
This is an age where we're asked to have a lot of opinions, about a lot of things.
And I think that explanatory journalism can help a lot with that, because I do not know how to feel about today's Brexit news unless I have some kind of refresher on the last five years of Brexit.
But this channel is very clearly personal-perspective stuff. Like- [book hit]- I can hit myself with a book, it's completely-[book hit]- it's Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut. Did I say Kirk? I'm not doing that take again!
It's become a lot more clear in the past couple years that we as a society and a world have a really hard time telling the difference between journalism and opinion, and I don't want to be part of boring the line between those two things.
The other thing is that people started to do explainers really well, like better than we could, with editorial control, with expert interviews and highly trained journalists who spent their whole lives working on them, not just Tuesday.
And actually, some of our later explainers, we started to do the same things- introducing those same controls and standards. It turns out, though, that that's really hard, and takes a lot of time.
It's almost as if we as a society need highly trained people who are dedicated only to the task of explaining reality to us.
But worringly, it seems like what people want is heading in the other direction. We don't want complicated editorial structures, we want individuals who we feel like we can trust because- like they just mesh with us, on a values level, and they're very charasmatic!
Trusting a source based on charisma rather than like, rigor, is bad. It's bad! And looking back over the last couple of years, why we stopped doing so many explainers, maybe it's because we started to feel like we were part of that.
I do think that we're good at them, though. I do miss them, but like, I think that if we do them again we have to be very careful about what we're doing and how to present it.
So I guess it's a lot of stuff, but like, down at the foundation of it, it's that I don't know that I trust myself to conjure the level of objectivity that I think the word 'explained' implies.
So I think that's the thing. John, I'll see you on Tuesday.