The world is complicated. The news doesn’t have to be.
Start Here is the flagship online explainer series for Al Jazeera English, hosted by Sandra Gathmann. We help people around the world navigate the vast, fast-paced world of international news by taking the big stories and breaking them down so they’re easy to understand. We won’t just tell you what happened. We unpick the complicated stuff with elegant graphics, give you the backstory, tell you why a story matters and how it affects people — all in around 10 to 15 minutes.
Start Here was conceived in late 2019 as a studio-based show, but with our spinoff series “Start Here - on the road” Sandra gets out of the studio to elevate our explainer format with on-the-ground reporting. Our objective with “Start Here - on the road” was to introduce that field element, whilst not losing the show’s explainer DNA and ensuring it remained distinct from more traditional news/feature video reporting.
We went first to Lithuania, where Sandra embedded with a NATO training unit to explain how the military alliance has changed since the war in Ukraine. “Has the war in Ukraine given NATO new purpose?” breaks down this major geopolitical story, provides important historical context and leaves viewers with a clear understanding of why NATO’s eastern front has become such a focus for renewed attention.
Then to Afghanistan, where we shot two episodes to examine what life is like after a year under Taliban rule. “Can the Taliban fix Afghanistan’s economic crisis?” explains why the economic impact of the Taliban takeover was so severe; how the country was essentially cut-off economically almost overnight; how this is affecting the Afghan people and what needs to happen for the situation to improve. We hear from the Taliban themselves, Afghan economic experts and the people at the sharp end of the economic collapse. The episode condenses a highly complicated story into a 15-minute overview that leaves viewers with a clear picture of the challenges the country is facing.
Our second episode from Afghanistan - “What women in Afghanistan want you to know” - is a nuanced examination of the challenges facing Afghan women and girls. We were keen to be honest about the limitations of this endeavour - just like the women of any other nationality “Afghan women” are not a homogenous group. Our intention was to feature a range of voices - from high school girls barred from school to a woman who supports the Taliban - and allow the audience to draw their own conclusions about the situation.
Finally, we took Start Here on the road to Qatar, where Sandra untangled the excitement and controversies surrounding the 2022 World Cup. The episode won praise from the Start Here audience for its balanced take on a complicated and divisive topic - an approach that sets it apart from some of the more feverish coverage of this story that dominated many media outlets.
“Start Here –on the road” has been extremely well received by our audience, who tell us they want more of this kind of reporting from us. It shows in the data - these have been some of Start Here’s best performing episodes and together have garnered more than 5.2 million views across YouTube and Facebook, all organic. With 1.8 million views, our episode on Afghanistan’s economy is the 6th most watched on Al Jazeera’s YouTube channel in 2022.
It’s particularly gratifying when people who are from the country or region we’re reporting on appreciate our explainers. For example, one of the most-liked YouTube comments on our Afghanistan economy episode was from a young Afghan man, who wrote: “As a young man living under the Taliban rule this really deeply affected me! Our people are unemployed, mostly illiterate, left destitute! And there are still ppl who are divided in the name of sect, ethnicity, and tribes!”. And our NATO episode drew this comment from a young Lithuanian man: “Thanks for this quality report! We, Lithuanians, have lived under the threat of Russia for centuries”.
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