Stories published by nonprofit news organization The Conversation highlight relevant academic research and can be republished for free, with academic experts explaining their timely research on topics including science, technology, religion, health, politics, economics and more. Learn how your local news organization can get connected to a robust library of interesting content in our interview with Beth Daley, editor and general manager, and Joel Abrams, manager of media outreach for The Conversation U.S.
Can you tell us about The Conversation including history, funding, and the mission?
Daley: The Conversation is an independent nonprofit news organization that pairs academic experts with veteran journalists to produce evidence-based articles that we provide for free to other news outlets. We deliver research-based explanatory journalism, analysis and expert commentary across subject areas that represent, in many ways, newspaper beats. Our mission is “to democratize knowledge for the public good.”
The Conversation U.S. was founded in 2014 and is part of a global network of news organizations that began in Australia in 2011, based on our founder’s insight that it is vitally important for academics to engage with the public and share what they know — but that academics need the help of journalists to be understandable to the general public.
We’re able to do this and provide this content for free to other news organizations because we are supported by foundations, universities, and individual donors. We maintain our editorial independence and our commitment to transparency includes disclosing all of our funders right on our homepage, and having our authors publicly disclose any potential conflicts as well.
What topics do you cover?
Abrams: Our editors aim for a mix of insights into stories in the day’s news, important new research and just plain interesting. Our editors’ beats/desks are science and technology, politics and society, religion and ethics, health, arts and culture, education, and economics and business.
In the last six months, we’ve covered the coronavirus pandemic from all sorts of angles. We’ve had stories on research (Steroids cut COVID-19 death rates, but not for everyone – here’s who benefits and who doesn’t, Declining antibodies and immunity to COVID-19 – why the worry?), explainers on keeping safe (What a smoky bar can teach us about the ‘6-foot rule’ during the COVID-19 pandemic, School bus safety during the COVID-19 pandemic: 8 recommendations), analysis of policy (I’m a public health researcher, and I’m dismayed that the CDC’s missteps are causing people to lose trust in a great institution, Approval of a coronavirus vaccine would be just the beginning – huge production challenges could cause long delays), parenting, history, religion, business, education, ethics, the arts, and even beekeeping.
Besides that, we have extensive coverage that could go in most any section of a newspaper: stories on national and international news, business, arts, living, education, religion, parenting, education, health, outdoors and the home section. Or as I like to say, we’ve written about everything from astronomy to Zoroastrianism.
Which topics are most often picked up by local media?
Daley: Many news outlets particularly appreciate our explainers on issues in the news, written by experts who have studied that topic for years, but edited by our team to be accessible. Because we allow our authors to draw conclusions from the evidence, many newspapers like the Kitsap Sun place our content on the op-ed page. The Washington Post frequently uses our articles in its science/health section, in print and online. Meredith TV stations have used practical advice on the coronavirus pandemic. The Philadelphia Inquirer has run several articles in its real estate section.
What makes your content unique and useful to local media?
Daley: Every day, we provide local media with 8-12 stories to pick from, bringing to bear the knowledge from some of the best minds in America about important issues. The pandemic has shown the importance of getting reliable, accurate information to the public, and the growing popularity of our content shows that the public is hungry for this information.
We know many news organizations are strapped for resources, and are trying to do more with smaller staffs. We provide quality content at no charge to help fill this gap.
What can you tell us about your evergreen content and The Conversation story archives?
Abrams: We’ve published almost 12,000 articles over the years – which means we have a deep archive of evergreen content. I’ll pull stories from the archives before holidays or annual events, large and small, to let editors know about them.
One of our more interesting evergreen features is Curious Kids, a series of stories for younger readers, answering questions on everything from “why does pizza taste great?” to “what is an epidemiologist?”
Who is involved in the editorial process – planning, assigning, reviewing, editing and publishing?
Daley: We have a staff of 20 editors who set our editorial agenda and find and vet the experts who write for us. Each day begins with an editorial meeting where the team discusses where and how The Conversation can add to the public understanding of events in the day’s news. (This used to be in our Boston newsroom; now it’s a Zoom with our team in Boston, New York, Washington, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Salem, Oregon.)
The editors assign stories on their beats to academics who they locate by sending emails to universities or through their extensive network of experts. They also filter through 100-200 pitches from researchers each week.
After a story is assigned, they work through a number of drafts with the authors, introducing the academics to concepts like writing in plain English and the nut graf, and the line editor fact-checks it. A senior editor offers feedback, and it is revised as necessary, then it goes for a final read from one of our top editors, and a copy edit.
How can local newsrooms find out about what’s available, and then access and republish your stories? (RSS feed, emails, platform integrations)
Abrams: The best way to find out about what we have is to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and get on my email list. I will let you know either everything we have, or let you know when we have articles about your specific interests (whether that is science, or North Carolina, or animals). Associated Press clients can also receive a daily advisory each morning on the wire. We also offer RSS feeds or a slack integration to give you a heads-up.
There are two main ways to access the content for republishing. The first is to go to any article on our site and click the “Republish this article” button. It will give you code that can be dropped into most publishing systems in the HTML code mode. The code includes photos and charts that you should be able to use. It also includes an invisible counter pixel that we use to gather anonymous, aggregate information on the number of times an article is read.
The other way to access articles is through a feed from AP. They distribute all of our content to their customers, and you should have free access to it. You can find it in AP Newsroom here, or by searching “source:conversation.” One drawback of the AP feed is that it doesn’t include art, embedded videos, or charts — so you can always contact me to get those.
What is your policy and rules for redistribution?
Daley: We distribute all our content under a Creative Commons-Attribution-No Derivatives license, and the few straightforward rules can be found under republishing guidelines on our website. Basically, we ask that you credit us, the author, and the author’s university and not make any substantive changes to the article without checking with us first.
You can put our content behind a paywall and put your usual ads on it.
One thing that often comes up is that many articles are too long for use in print. If that’s the case, contact us and we’ll be glad to send you a version that will fit. This can take from a few hours up to a day, but will save you the work (or some editors will send us their cuts and we’ll run them by the author). Print editors should know that I also send out regular emails highlighting our shorter articles.
Are local media and/or the public able to submit ideas for coverage and consideration?
Daley: Yes, we love to know what you’re interested in, and some of our most interesting articles have come from suggestions of editors. If you think your readers are wondering about a topic or would benefit from an explanation of something, chances are that others are wondering too.
We’re also glad to contribute an analysis to go along with a series or collaborative project you’re doing. Send your ideas to Joel and he’ll pass them along to the appropriate editors. We have the resources to find the expert and the time to work with them to translate their knowledge into an interesting article.
How can news publishers work with The Conversation or learn more?
Abrams: There’s no paperwork you need to do or anything — just try it out! If you have any questions about the process in general or any specific article, you can reach me and my colleague Katrina Aman by emailing email@example.com and we’ll get back to you rapidly.