"Explanatory journalism" sure could do a better job of explaining

For example, an article on the way that protesters in Ferguson and Hong Kong both used the ‘hands up’ signal could talk about how protesters indeed sometimes take symbols or techniques from previous protests and adapt them for their own purposes. An academically inclined piece might look to the work of Sidney Tarrow and his colleagues on protests and framing devices, as well as to the ideas of Marc Lynch, Zeynep Tufekci and others. The piece might also note that protesters might do the same thing as previous protesters even when they are not imitating them, because human beings, when they are trying to solve similar problems, may independently come up with similar solutions. If it wanted to get super fancy, it could talk about the problems that social scientists face in figuring out when copying is happening, but that would probably be too deep in the weeds for any other explainer site than this one.

As already noted, Vox.com is not the only site that has to think hard about how to improve explainer journalism. We and other sites face exactly the same challenge (I know that if I went back through my own posts, I’d find a lot of assertions that were way more strongly worded than they should have been). Indeed, this may be a challenge that the Vox.com model is better suited to dealing with than many more traditional kinds of journalistic publishing. The Vox.com model of frequently updated ‘cardstacks’ could be adapted to allow writers both to lay out different hypotheses or understandings of a situation on different cards, and to show readers the updating process, in which one understanding turns out to be better than others, as new explainers supersede old ones. Indeed, social scientists — who are trying to figure out how to deal with related problems in their own research could eventually learn from these new forms of journalistic presentation how to up their own game (which certainly needs a lot of upping).