At The Conversation we do journalism a little differently from our peers. We unearth new research, find issues that need expert analysis, and provide evidence-based guidance on day-to-day living.
To do that, we find an academic with relevant expertise to team up with an editor who knows how to write clearly and present a story well. For example, when news broke of the ANU cyber attack, our Science + Technology editor Sarah Keenihan worked with senior IT lecturer Nicholas Patterson to publish a fantastic piece delving into the implications of the data breach.
We publish close to 80 articles a week and at least 4 million people come to our Australian website every month (that’s not including the millions more through republished articles, or to the other international editions of The Conversation).
But while big audience numbers are exciting, it’s the impact these articles have that is the true indicator of success.
After writing an article, more than 65% of Conversation authors are contacted for further media, business consultation or research collaboration – or, like the University of Sydney’s Jim Gillespie, contacted by government. After he wrote about the merits of My Health Record, Associate Professor Gillespie was asked by the Australian Senate Community Affairs References Committee to present at public hearings.
Similarly, Western Sydney University’s Dr Rae Dufty-Jones’s story on why young women are leaving regional communities at a greater rate than young men led to a phone call from then opposition leader, Bill Shorten, wanting to know more about her research. And after UNSW’s Gail Broadbent wrote about the economic benefits of electric vehicles, the federal department of environment and energy invited her to discuss her research with a group of policymakers.
Our authors don’t just criticise policy; sometimes, their work helps to shape better policy too.
We also believe that it’s vital that quality information is free for all, not just those who can afford it.
While most media companies try to get people to come to their website or newspaper or TV broadcast, we make our content free to republish and share as widely as possible. Just last week we had an article published in the Maldives, and our pieces are regularly translated by international news organisations.
Our global republication network has helped Professor Clare Collins alone reach more than 8.2 million readers to date, including via the ABC News, The Daily Mail and New Zealand Herald (just to name a few). She describes The Conversation as the most impactful media she does and says it’s “a game-changer for getting evidence into public debate”.
But our job isn’t just to improve researchers’ public profiles; we want to help them improve public understanding of often complex issues.
That’s why we’re so proud when we hear about authors like Ben Grimes, a Charles Darwin University law lecturer, whose piece was quoted by Terry Mills (former Chief Minister and current Independent MLA) in Parliament. Or seeing Massey University’s Pro Vice-Chancellor Paul Spoonley being interviewed by the BBC, CNN and dozens of other media outlets about his research on right-wing extremism in New Zealand after the Christchurch shootings. Or within hours of publishing on the federal police raids on Australian media outlets, seeing University of Queensland senior law lecturer Rebecca Ananian-Welsh’s article being quoted in the respected Columbia Journalism Review.
The Conversation started eight years ago with a hope of creating a more research-backed lens for Australians to read the news and understand the world around them.
Our aim is still to ensure our important conversations are led by people with real expertise; not the loudest, most famous, or those who simply get the most airtime. Good information is essential to a healthy democracy, and ensuring public debate is led by independent, expert voices is core to our work.
We’d love to do more of this but we need your help. To support our work to help experts have a greater influence in public debate, you can make a tax deductible donation to The Conversation today.
Authors: Misha Ketchell, Editor & Executive Director, The Conversation