RTVF professor, former ‘Blue’s Clues’ animator educates voters on YouTube

Christine Farolan, Reporter

In a world of increasingly complex and miscommunicated information, Radio, Television and Film professor Eric Patrick has launched an animated YouTube series titled “Citizen Primer,” which tries to clarify a variety of issues for American voters.

Patrick said created the series for many reasons, partially inspired by an instance in which his friend, a professor at a large research university, complained that he would lose money after getting a raise since his salary moved up a tax break.

“And I thought, wow, here’s somebody who’s very in the know about so many things but has this one basic thing wrong,” Patrick said.

The first video, which was released last week, explained the progressive tax code that was worrying his friend, and the second covered the Affordable Care Act. The second video was released on Tuesday. These will be followed by four more episodes discussing Social Security, deficit and debt, Medicare and securities regulation. 

Patrick explained that his goal is to produce “bite-sized chunks of information” and to clarify things in a non-partisan way because he said it is becoming difficult for everyday voters to parse information themselves. As a former animator for the children’s TV show “Blue’s Clues,” he said he feels like he is doing similar work with this project.

“The ideal for this project would be to make it like a ‘Schoolhouse Rock’ for adults,” Patrick said, referring to another popular educational children’s series. “This is something that I’ve always been interested in: how we educate people and communicate those ideas in a clear, concise way.”

In creating an episode, Patrick and a team of Northwestern undergraduates research an idea they believe voters struggle to understand, create an information sheet covering primary sources and look for the best visual framework with which to convey the idea.

“We try to think in terms of getting it as tight as possible,” Patrick said. “So the screen is not just showing what you’re hearing on the voice track, but it’s also showing you additional information.”

Communication freshman Jordan Scherer, the marketing and press manager for “Citizen Primer,” said she became interested in the project as a way for her to continue making a difference in the political process, although she is too busy to work on campaigns. She believes that information is necessary for an effective democracy, and that is what makes the series important.

“I have gotten many emails from educated, successful people responding to our first video and saying that they … learned a lot,” Scherer said. “I was very surprised that even very educated people have such glaring knowledge gaps.”

When the six-video series is finished, Patrick plans to remake them in Spanish and keep them free on the Internet, with the intention of reaching as many people as possible. The project is currently funded by the Chicago Digital Media Production Fund and some NU grants, but he hopes to be able to secure more funding to continue the series in the future. He would like to introduce other topics such as incarceration, vaccination and conspiracy theories. 

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @crfarolan