Almost three months ago the format – which was established by Andrew Jaspan, the former editor-in-chief of Melbourne newspaper The Age – was launched in the UK with the financial backing of 13 partner universities and research bodies and a base at City University London. The feasibility of a US launch is currently being considered.
In an interview with the Monocle following the UK launch in May, editor Stephen Khan explained that the site would offer comment-driven content "on events shaping the world we live in".
The topics to be covered would include politics, the environment, health and science – the latter of which he described as "hugely important for us" given the fact some felt it "perhaps wasn't getting the airing it might in the mainstream media".
The project was launched in the UK as a six-month pilot. Now, almost halfway in, the site is publishing around 10 to 12 articles a day and to date it has featured contributions from a total of 96 academic institutions. Contributor bylines are linked to profile pages, giving more detail on the individual's work both on and off the site.
"We think that we're producing some really good content," Khan told Journalism.co.uk, adding that their academic writers have proven those wrong who, in the early stages, questioned their ability to respond to events at speed. Although "not tied to the news agenda", The Conversation does "feed off it", meaning its writers do not always have time on their side.
"Some of the things people said to me before we launched was, 'they'll never hit deadlines' and 'the copy will be really dull'," Khan said. "Well, we haven't found that. When the pressure has been on, the writers have delivered high quality content in good time."
Its formula lies in bringing together editors who can apply their journalistic skills to the writing produced by academics, and deliver content which is filled with expert knowledge and analysis, and is also appealing to read.
"The academic brings the knowledge and the information," Khan said. "We as editors are there to make this accessible to the wider public and to ensure that we're producing content that is of interest to as wider group of people as possible."
And the site is passionate that opportunities to share comment and analysis on given subjects is given to those with specialist knowledge on those areas.
"We felt that there's a lot of information out there at the moment, a lot of comment, a lot of analysis, but not an awful lot of that comes from people who really know what they're talking about," Khan said.
"We felt, in the academic community in the United Kingdom, there is a big group of people who truly were qualified to comment and we're all about facilitating that."
And when it came to choosing a platform, The Conversation was always destined for the web. "Print has never been a consideration," Khan said, explaining why they opted for online.
"To get this message across and to spread these stories as quickly as possible, there's one obvious platform for it and that's the one we're using".
And another way to spread this information which the site has found effective, is through not only allowing but encouraging other publishers to republish its articles under Creative Commons.
"It's all about spreading this information and we want as many people to read what we produce as possible, and that's one way of achieving that," Khan said.
With just a few months left until the end of the pilot, the team of eight journalists hope to see in the new year with an extended project under their belt and a rise in funding partner bodies to 20 institutions.
And Khan believes this type of content could be an important part of the future make-up of the industry.
"Inevitably people ask doubtfully if this is the future of journalism – 'academics replacing journalists?' Well that clearly is not the case.
"This is primarily news analysis and comment writing by experts in their fields. It does not replace reporting. But it may be a future – a channel for reliable and informative content that the public can trust and engage with."
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