The Conversation, Africa edition, went live today. Underpinned with the tagline ‘Academic rigour, journalistic flair’, the site celebrates the union of groundbreaking research translated by top journalists and editors into plain language stories understood by laymen. Glenda Nevill reports.
The Conversation is the brainchild of Andrew Jaspan, a former editor of The Observer in the United Kingdom and The Age in Australia, explains South African editor, Caroline Southey. “He realised that there weren’t any real spaces for academic research to be presented to lay people in simple, plain language and that a lot of great research was being ignored as a result. He start started the first Conversation site Australia four years ago. This was followed by a launch in the UK in 2013 and the US in 2014,” she says.
Southey discovered the concept and realised how powerful it was and how necessary it was on the continent. “We have amazing academics doing game-changing research in Africa. I worked with our general manager Alexandra Storey to bring the project to fruition. Our colleagues in Australia, the UK and the US have been incredibly supportive – we’ve even had two members of the Australian team (one of them the editor Misha Ketchell) working with us here to prepare for launch,” she told The Media Online.
The Conversation, like many top-end journalism sites (think Common Dreams, Contributoria, De Korrespondent, Krautreporter) is entirely donor funded. Here, the National Research Foundation and the Knight Foundation support it. “We also have two strategic partners in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Barclays Africa,” she said. “We only run advertisements if they are relevant and unobtrusive. In Australia, for example, the site runs job ads.” The Australian The Conversation charter defines those parameters. It says it will, “Ensure the site’s integrityby only obtaining non-partisan sponsorship from education, government and private partners. Any advertising will be relevant and non-obtrusive”.
Southey did her homework before hiring her team, meeting with vice chancellors, deans of research, communications officers and other academics across sub-Saharan Africa explaining what the site is all about. “Since we started working as a full team we have had an incredibly positive response from academics we have approached as section editors to write for the site. They are really excited about being able to share their research far beyond the usual world of journals and conferences, and also love the fact that our Creative Commons licence means stories can be republished far and wide,” she says. “Everything on the site is published under creative commons. Through republishing The Conversation is reaching an audience of 22 million a month. The site is also attracting 2.5 million hits a month.”
Southey says that as with all startups, The Conversation is building networks from scratch, which is never easy. “But we have a great team made up of seven editors (Caroline Southey, Jabulani Sikhakhane, Thabo Leshilo, Natasha Joseph, Candice Bailey, Edwin Naidu and Ozayr Patel) as well as a strong management team (Alexandra Storey and Tanya Pampalone).
“We have also been greatly helped by the fact that there are three existing The Conversation sites that are doing incredibly well. We have opted for a ‘soft’ launch as we establish ourselves and build the team to its full complement of nine editors.”
Southey says universities have been overwhelmingly supportive and excited. “We have so far received endorsements from 18 from across the continent. We will be featuring them on our home page.”
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