The Conversation: because we still need experts
Holly Squire | Features
Despite what former Education Secretary Michael Gove says, we need experts now more than ever before, particularly to help people understand difficult and complicated topics – just like the EU referendum.
In the current environment, scientists and academics are faced with a difficult choice. On the one hand, there is increasing pressure, and a genuine desire from many, to put their knowledge ‘out there’ and to engage with the media and a wider audience. On the other hand, there are fundamental tensions between political, media and scientific norms of communication, along with the fear of actually speaking to journalists in the first place. This is where ‘The Conversation’ steps in, as an independent website providing news analysis, comment and opinion on current affairs and subjects of interest, written entirely by academics.
A NOVEL APPROACH TO COMMUNICATION
The Conversation provides a team of professional journalists, with whom you, the researchers, can work to bring your expertise to a wider non-academic audience in short, timely, informative articles. Uniquely, The Conversation’s collaborative online editing platform is set up so that authors must approve pieces before publication. The Conversation’s experienced journalists will help you to develop your communication skills, by editing your work to help it reach as wide an audience as possible, using your academic rigour and their journalistic flair. But you are the author and, if you don’t sign off the finished piece, it can’t be published.
For your efforts, you will gain greater media exposure and a wider audience for your research, as well as honing your communication skills and finding new opportunities to connect and work with academic collaborators.
The Conversation UK is a not-for-profit company and charitable trust funded by more than 60 member universities, Research Councils UK (RCUK), the Higher Education Funding Council for England and other funding bodies. Based in London, but with regional editors across the UK, our team of around 20 journalists works with experts from our member institutions to unlock knowledge and help improve the quality of public debate.
HOW WE SPREAD THE WORD
To spread authors’ expertise to as broad an audience as possible, all content on The Conversation is published under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) licence. This means articles are free to read and free for other organisations to republish – unchanged and with original credit.
Creative Commons allows mainstream news outlets – including The Guardian, The Independent, The New York Times, The Daily Mail, The New Statesman, The Wall Street Journal, Scientific American, Quartz, Salon and many others – to republish articles, and so reach an audience far larger than those coming to our site alone. Indeed, more than 90% of our articles are republished elsewhere, with a monthly readership of around 15 million.
'The Conversation's experienced journalists will help you to develop your communciation skills ... using your academic rigour and their journalistic flair. But you are the author and, if you don't sign off the finished piece, it can't be published'
Contributing authors receive a public profile (ranked highly by Google), and a dashboard which compiles readership metrics for their articles. The dashboard records each article’s readership figures on site, where the article has been republished elsewhere, from where in the world the readers come, social media reach and running totals. We believe authors will find these useful in terms of gauging and demonstrating the reach and impact of their research for funders and for the Research Excellence Framework.
HOW TO GET PUBLISHED
To write for The Conversation you must have a current academic affiliation: that is, a position at a (generally publicly funded) university or research institute, whether part time, full time, visiting, honorary or emeritus. We will also consider those at organisations designated as independent research organisations by RCUK. We are looking for articles on subjects written by experts in their field. We welcome researchers of any level, including PhD students writing on subjects closely aligned to their theses.
You can pitch your ideas directly to our team of editors through our website. You should tell us briefly what you want to write about, ideally including an explanation of why your story matters, and why it is currently topical. Most articles in The Conversation are just 600–800 words, so it’s important to start with a clear idea of the most important point(s) you want to cover, which will help us provide a quick response to your pitch.
You can hone your pitch first by talking to someone else outside your field of expertise. What questions do they ask? If they were to ask ‘So what?’ how would you respond? That’s the first question readers will ask in deciding whether to spend time reading your article. If you can answer that question well, it’s much more likely your pitch will be accepted and that you will find a wide global audience for your work.
The Conversation typically receives dozens of pitches a week. Not all are suitable, so we can’t accept every pitch, but we still aim to reply within a couple of days to at least say it’s been received or to reject it. Even if we don’t accept your pitch, it’s good to connect so that we know you’re interested in writing and also your field of expertise, as there may be opportunities in the future.
An easy way to get a sense of what we cover is to read what we publish, by subscribing to our email newsletter. Arriving first thing each morning, you can quickly scan its headlines, read about new research and find out what others in your field are writing about. Sign up at http://www.theconversation.com/uk/newsletter.
Commissioning Editor, The Conversation