Why every academic should write for The Conversation
At the beginning of this month, I wrote a piece for the news organization “The Conversation” with Sarah Wayland from the University of Sydney on emerging research on missing persons across Australia and Canada. Our story has now been read by almost 19,000 people (and climbing), been shared over 150 times, reached at least 5 countries, and was picked up by other organizations including Flipboard and Phys.org. We both received a lot of engagement with our work as a result, such as several comments on the article, an increase in Twitter followers, new downloads of our publications, and new visits to our websites, among others.
The Conversation is a non-profit, independent source of views and news from academics and researchers. It provides a platform to write news sources that are delivered directly to the public. Any current academic or researcher can easily sign up and pitch an idea for a story. From there, if your pitch is selected, you’ll be matched with a professional journalist and/or editor who will help you edit, produce, and curate your story. They connect with you via phone or email with next steps and a deadline, and then you write your article. After submitting your story by the deadline, the editor adjusts content (if necessary), adds pictures, and publishes it with your approval. The Conversation then pushes your piece out to other organizations and promotes your work internationally (and encourages you to do the same). The Conversation also provides you with access to several tools after publishing your article, such as seeing who’s tweeting about it, getting notifications about comments and being able to reply to these comments, and seeing who else is writing from your institution and how your institution stacks up against others in terms of articles and engagement.
Yes, that’s right: You get to talk to the news without … well … talking to the news. I’ve found there are really only two types of academics and researchers: 1) those who enjoy talking to and dealing with the news media, and 2) those who do not enjoy talking to and dealing with the news media. Okay, maybe there are more kinds, but you get my point. As a junior scholar, I have been hesitant to engage with the media because: What if I say something wrong? What if something I say is taken out of context? What if I stutter or forget what to say? What if, what if, what if. This is where The Conversation comes in. You control the narrative, what is said, how it is said, the headline, the sources of information, and everything else associated with your piece. The editor does make recommendations and adjustments to your article if necessary, which is great because their experiences and expertise with journalism will help with attracting a global audience. Other than this, your story is yours.
Telling a story about your research has a lot of benefits. Namely, your work can ultimately land in the hands of practitioners, academics, funders, the public, and other people who may need it. To draw parallels to my published papers in academic journals: the Altmetrics of my oldest paper has 3,298 downloads, 11 Twitter shares, and 1 citation. I understand I am calling myself out here, but are we, as academics and researchers, really doing the best job at communicating our valuable work by only posting our findings and stories in academic journals? I’d say probably not.
There are several other benefits to writing for The Conversation: promotion, networking, community engagement, building your CV (see below), and others. Former writers for The Conversation have blogged about how they have been offered to present/speak at events, contribute to magazine stories, participate on radio programs, and coauthor/work with other academics and researchers, all because of their Conversation article.
In short, I highly recommend writing an article for The Conversation. I found it was a very gentle and easy activity to do (especially compared to the peer review process). It helps non-scientists find out about you and appreciate your work, and brings your research and publications to the attention of other researchers and academics. Even if you’re on the fence about it, sign up and pitch an idea and just see what happens. If you want to write something but are hesitant or don’t know where to start, contact me. Your research deserves attention, and this is one great way to do it.
University of Western Ontario