The Conversation – a news media opportunity for KI researchers

KI is a member of The Conversation, an international news platform that is changing the way academics interact with the media. The collaboration benefits researchers by boosting their international profile and sharpening their communication skills, both of which are great for funding applications. It also serves a higher purpose in providing the media and the public with expert insights on the issues the world faces – a fun chance of giving back. Find out below how you can get involved.

What is The Conversation?

The Conversation is a politically unaffiliated, non-profit international online news publisher that allows other media to republish articles under a Creative Commons agreement. It’s different from other mainstream media in that the articles are written by academics within their own area of expertise. A team of professional journalists and editors help refine the articles to ensure they are tailored for a generalist audience. It’s expert-driven journalism at its best.

History and readership

The Conversation was launched in Australia in 2011, partly in response to cutbacks on science journalism in mainstream media. The founders envisioned a giant newsroom where academics worked with professional journalists to ensure the most up-to-date, expert knowledge informed the public debate on complex issues. Since then, The Conversation has grown into eight editions in four languages, including a global edition, and draws about 64 million readers per month, a figure that includes republications in media outlets such as BBC, CNN, Washington Post, ScienceAlert and 1,000s more. The audience is mainly non-academic and tilts toward the younger side, with titles such as managers, senior executives, teachers, health practitioners, journalists and policymakers.

Why write for The Conversation?

Some benefits for academics:

  • Profile building. Articles published by The Conversation get tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of readers. Writers are regularly approached by newspapers and broadcasters for follow-ups. Some articles have been referenced by political leaders and helped shape public policy, others have led to job offers, new research collaborations and contacts with industry and non-profit organizations. It’s a way to create a parallel track record of your academic work that is searchable on the Internet for a lay audience.
  • Actionable performance stats. Each writer has access to an analytic tool that includes the number of reads, social media interactions and republications. These nuggets can be used in funding applications to demonstrate a history of research impact and public outreach. Since most articles are in English, they’re great for EU and U.S. applications.
  • Enhanced communication skills. The Conversation’s editors work hard to help researchers clarify their ideas and target their messages for a generalist audience. Writers describe this process as an educational experience that has helped them communicate better elsewhere, from teaching students to applying for grants.
  • Control. Journalistically edited pieces are only published after final approval by the researcher/author. This means researchers have control over the end product and removes the risk of being misquoted. The Creative Commons license also means that other media outlets can only republish your piece verbatim and without alterations.
  • The greater good. Sharing your knowledge with others outside your academic field helps to ensure your research benefits the rest of society. It’s also fun to write compellingly in ways that most people can understand.

Who pays?

The Conversation is a non-profit organization financed by membership fees and support from some 500 research organizations and universities around the world. Fees and donations pay employee salaries and administrative costs. Writers are neither paid nor charged for writing articles. KI is a paying member of the UK edition, along with close to 90 universities and research institutes in Europe.

How are articles published in The Conversation?

Articles typically come about in one of three ways.

  1. The editors of The Conversation ask a researcher in their network to write a piece on a topic that is in the news. This represents most pieces.
  2. Academics or communication teams pitch/suggest an article idea. Academics are invited to pitch through a pitch page on the website.
    IMPORTANT! Don’t write a full article until your suggestion/pitch has been accepted by an editor.
  3. The editors send daily and monthly expert requests to press teams, who then identify suitable writers at their university for the requested topic.

Some articles also become content for The Conversation’s podcasts.

What type of content are they looking for?

Pieces written for The Conversation are typically around 800 words and might be framed as:

  • News: insight/analysis of current affairs, or new angles on current or old stories.
  • Research: discuss your new findings, or comment on other people’s research.
  • Timeless stories: tell an interesting story, answer an interesting question.
  • Unusual, surprising, counter-intuitive stories: readers love a contrary view, backed by research.
  • Personal stories, human interest.
  • List format: “Five things to know about…”, or “Ten reasons why…”
  • How-tos and guides: Readers like advice that could help them.

How to get involved?

Make sure the editors of The Conversation know you’re interested in writing and what your expertise is. KI’s communications office can also help by matching you with the right expert request or by pitching a story idea on your behalf. It helps if your KI profile page is updated and reflects your academic achievements in a non-specialist way.

Contact

Do all article ideas get published in The Conversation?

Regrettably not – which is why you should always submit a suggestion/pitch and wait for a confirmatory response before starting to write a full article.

Do’s and don’ts

Do:

  • Find a news hook for your article idea. For example, pay attention to events in the news that can be leveraged to grab a reader’s attention or suggest an article idea a couple of weeks before you have a new piece of research coming out.
  • Keep your suggestion/pitch tight, 200-300 words is usually enough. Try to condense your main point or finding into one or two punchy sentences. Then answer the question “so what?” Why is this important and why should readers care.
  • Explain why you are the right person to author such a piece by referencing previous research and your connection to KI. All authors must have a current academic position at a university, with the entry level of PhD candidate.
  • If you’re asked to write a piece, have a conversation with your editor to make sure you’re both aligned on the angle and what’s needed for the article to work. Agree on a deadline and stick to it. Read the brief sent to you by the editors on how to file, including how to reference statements of facts and statistics using hyperlinks. The Conversation uses a digital editing tool that allows direct coaching on language, style and form.
  • Once your article is published, please do share it on your social media platforms and/or with KI’s communications office so we can help maximize its impact.
  • Attend one of The Conversation’s workshops in popular science writing and finding the news potential in your research. These workshops are great for refining your article ideas and for learning about pitching stories. They will also increase your chances of acceptance.
  • Contact KI’s communications office to learn more and to discuss how you can get involved.

Don’t:

  • Don’t submit a finished article at the first point of contact. These articles are almost never accepted, and it will most likely be a waste of your time. The best articles are the result of a collaboration between the researcher and the editor.
  • Don’t send abstracts or papers and ask if they’re interested. The idea is to get away from academic writing and the editors need to see that you can write for a lay audience.
  • Don’t be defeated if your pitch isn’t accepted. The Conversation receives around 5,000 pitches a year, of which about a third turn into published articles. There are lots of reasons a pitch might not work, perhaps the topic was recently covered, or the subject is too far into the weeds for a non-specialist audience. It has nothing to do with the quality of your research or expertise!

Participate in a workshop

The Conversation offers up to four digital training sessions per year for KI researchers. During these workshops, you get a chance to practice finding the news potential in your own research and writing for a generalist audience. Please let us know if you’re interested in attending and we will keep you posted when the next workshop is scheduled.

List your event on The Conversation

Member institutions of The Conversation can post about upcoming events free of charge. To list your event on The Conversation, please fill out this form. Event listings are available on the website and top picks are included in The Conversation's newsletter.

Articles by KI researchers in The Conversation