How can you explain a war to someone in five minutes and be sure that they would understand?


There are few topics as complex as wars. Even more so in the Internet era, where readers are flooded with information (and misinformation). In the daily torrent of news, context is usually absent, which makes it harder for people to engage and care about such important topics. How can we, as journalists, reach them in a quick and comprehensive manner?

My answer? Animation. During my year as a John S. Knight Fellow, I developed a news animation studio that produces videos that explain complex topics in five minutes or less. By combining the rigor and analysis of traditional journalism with the rich visual language of animation, these videos can explain and contextualize any story in a memorable and comprehensive way.

My first animation (above), developed in collaboration with the Colombian studio Bombillo Amarillo, explored the origins and ramifications of the Syrian conflict.

a gateway to news coverage

For readers who closely follow an ongoing news topic like Syria or the financial crisis, these animations serve as an anchor to the news they consume, refreshing their knowledge of the fundamental issues. For those who are new to the topic, the animation provides a starting point to quickly understand the most important facts, bringing them up to speed. For news organizations, this service provides a gateway to the rest of their coverage and offers a way to reach new demographics.

This is not the first time animation has used to explain complex topics, but it is the first attempt to explain a conflict as sensitive and important as that of Syria. The same process will be applied to the next Animated Press video, which will take a look at the Greek financial crisis, its consequences and possible outcomes.

There are many challenges on the way, but the next step is to position Animated Press into a provider of content that can appeal to and inform readers of all ages, so that the next time someone wants to understand a war or any other important topic, they think of animation as a solution.

Wilson Liévano is a Knight Fellow at Stanford University. He first dreamed of becoming a journalist at age 14, when he discovered the work of a man considered the father of investigative reporting in Colombia. Still, in a country rife with murderous drug cartels, it was not considered a safe or particularly high-end profession. But the courage of journalists in Colombia inspired him. After graduating in 2002 from the Universidad Externado de Colombia, he freelanced then interned with CNN en Español in Atlanta. In 2004, Liévano earned a master’s in journalism from Boston University. The following year, he took a translating/editing job at The Wall Street Journal Americas that set him on an unexpected career path. Noting that the edition’s website had few stories — and few readers — he took on the job of improving it. The revamped site was an instant success and readership jumped exponentially. In 2008, he was named Editions Coordinator for Multimedia.

This post originally appeared on the blog for the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford.

jsklogoThe John S. Knight Fellowships at Stanford University fosters journalistic innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership. Each year, 20 individuals from around the world get the resources to pursue their ideas for improving journalism.