Type of site
|Analysis, commentary, research, news|
|Available in||English, French|
|Owner||The Conversation Trust|
|Key people||Misha Ketchell (editor)
Lisa Watts (chief operating officer)
|Slogan(s)||Academic rigour, journalistic flair|
|Alexa rank||5,812 (as of 29 December 2017[update])|
|Launched||24 March 2011|
The Conversation is an independent, not-for-profit media outlet that uses content sourced from the academic and research community. Since the Australian website's launch in March 2011, it has expanded into six editions, with the addition of a United Kingdom (UK) version in 2013, United States (US) in 2014, Africa in May 2015, France in September 2015, and Global in September 2016. The Conversation publishes all content under a Creative Commons license and, as of May 2017, reports a monthly online audience of 5.2 million users onsite, and a reach of 35 million people through creative commons republication.
The operating company The Conversation Media Group is a not-for-profit educational charity owned by The Conversation Trust. The Conversation is funded by the university and research sector, government and business.
Origins - The Conversation in Australia
The Conversation was co-founded by Andrew Jaspan and Jack Rejtman. Andrew Jaspan first discussed the concept of the Conversation with Glyn Davis, Vice-Chancellor at The University of Melbourne, while editing The Age between 2004 and 2008. Shortly after Jaspan left The Age, he was invited by Davis to review the university’s engagement with the public through its various knowledge transfer initiatives. Jaspan’s report recommended a new approach, whereby the university would communicate directly to the public through a news and commentary website. Jaspan envisioned the university as "a giant newsroom", with the academics and researchers collectively providing authoritative and informed content that engaged with the news cycle and major current affairs issues.
In February 2009, Jaspan was introduced to Jack Rejtman, who had arrived in Melbourne from Los Angeles, US, where he led product strategy for the "US 2008 Election" website at Yahoo! News. Jaspan discussed his newsroom concept with Rejtman, who was supportive. Jaspan and Rejtman met with Davis again in May 2009, with a proposal to extend the original concept beyond Melbourne University to include the broader research sector. After Davis expressed support for the extended concept, Jaspan introduced the idea to Chris Brown, a corporate finance specialist, who later became chairman of The Conversation Trust.
In June 2009, Jaspan outlined the concept for a new media service to John Brumby, then Premier of Victoria, who was intrigued by the idea. In August 2009, Melbourne University and the Victorian State Government both agreed to provide a small financial contribution to facilitate the commencement of work on the website—these agreements were contingent upon the involvement of other organisations. The State Government then introduced the Commonwealth Government Department of Innovation into the process; in turn, the Department of Innovation proposed the inclusion of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.
Jaspan and Rejtman then hired Michael Morris, a leading member of the Ruby on Rails open source web developer community, to develop the proof of concept. In November 2010, Jaspan and Rejtman secured first-round funding to cover The Conversation’s operating costs for three years. Initial funding came from the Commonwealth Government’s Department of Education, the Victorian Government’s Department of Innovation, CSIRO, Australian National University, University of Melbourne, Monash University, University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), and University of Western Australia (UWA). Finally, The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) joined the consortium as a Technology Partner, while Corrs Chambers Westgarth joined as a Strategic Partner and agreed to provide legal services.
The Conversation Media Group opened its Carlton office in November 2010. Jaspan hired Misha Ketchell in December 2010, whom he knew from The Age, and they hired 11 professional editors who began working towards a launch date of February 2011—the site was launched to the public on 24 March 2011. In November 2012, Robert Johanson, the Chairman of Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, became chairman of The Conversation.
In February 2013, Michelle Grattan left The Age, where she was the newspaper's Political Editor, to join the University of Canberra as a professorial fellow, and to write for The Conversation as its Chief Political Correspondent—Jaspan and Grattan had worked together at The Age. Both Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott praised Grattan during parliamentary sittings and wished her well in regard to her new role with The Conversation.
Jaspan confirmed the appointment of a Jakarta editor in early December 2013, which was the outcome of around 12 months work. Speaking with the Australian media industry website Mumbrella, Jaspan also shared his perspective on the growth of the Conversation:
I think our relative success is down to the fact that we are trying to produce something different: high-grade content sourced from the university and research sector which is curated by professional editors while together we make every effort to adhere to high standards and ethics.
The Conversation UK
The Conversation launched in the UK on 16 May 2013 with Jonathan Hyams as Chief Executive, Max Landry as Chief Operating Officer and Jaspan as Editor-in-chief.
As of 22 October 2014, the Founding Partners group of The Conversation UK consists of: University of Aberdeen, University of Birmingham, University of Bradford, University of Bristol, Cardiff University, City University London, University of Durham, Glasgow Caledonian University, Goldsmiths London, University of Lancaster, University of Leeds, University of Liverpool, University of Nottingham, The Open University, Queen's Belfast, University of Salford, University of Sheffield, University of Surrey, UCL, and University of Warwick.
As of 22 October 2014, the Strategic Partners group of The Conversation UK consists of: CBA, Wellcome Trust, Kingston Smith, SAGE Publications, Alliance for Useful Evidence and Macfarlanes. The website's Media Partner is the Press Association. The Funding Partners group of The Conversation UK consists of: Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, HEFCE, HEFCW, Nuffield Foundation, The Ogden Trust, Research Councils UK, The Research Councils UK Digital Economy Theme (DET) and Scottish Funding Council.
The Conversation US
Jaspan announced the official launch of the US version on 21 October 2014, the date that the website was first published. The US team was initially led by Margaret Drain, formerly Executive Producer and Vice President of National Programs at WGBH, with Bruce Wilson heading up Development and University Relations. The US pilot is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Alfred P Sloan Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and four other foundations.
As part of the announcement of the US Pilot launch in October 2014, Mumbrella explained that both the Australian and UK websites adhere to "a charter that protects editorial independence, author sign off, author disclosure statements and a readability index set to an educated 16-year-old." At the time of the launch, a charter was being devised for the US website.
In January 2016, traffic to the US site reached over a half-million visitors, with millions more reached by licensing its content under a Creative Commons license. They also announced 19 universities as founding partners, who pay up to $35,000 a year for access to analytics on their articles.
In 2017 and beyond: The Conversation Canada, New Zealand and Indonesia
Only six years after launching, TheConversation.com has editors based in the 25 cities shown, working for six regional editions: Africa, Australia (now including a New Zealand Editor), France (publishing in French & English), Global, the UK and the US. Canada launched in June 2017 and Indonesia (in Bahasa & English) is set to launch later this year.
Feasibility work is also underway on a Spanish-language edition.
The Conversation’s authors are academics and researchers. There are over 400,000 academic authors writing for the Conversation's websites.
Initial contributors included Nobel Laureate Peter Doherty; Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow and a Professorial Fellow in Economics at the University of Melbourne Ross Garnaut; Professor of Government and International Relations at University of Sydney John Keane; Professor, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President (Research) at University of Technology, Sydney Attila Brungs; Professor of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne Simon Marginson; Professor of Journalism at Queensland University of Technology Brian McNair and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne Glyn Davis.
Africa (as of 7 May 2015)
The editorial team of The Conversation Africa are Caroline Southey, Jabulani Sikhakhane, Thabo Leshilo, Natasha Joseph, Edwin Naidu, Candice Bailey and Ozayr Patel. The management team are Alexandra Storey and Tanya Pampalone.
Australia (as of 22 October 2014)
Lisa Watts is Chief Executive Officer (acting). As of May 2011, Watts' experience in the Australian online media and internet publishing fields spanned twelve years and was the CEO of ArtsHub, a news and employment website for the creative arts industry, prior to her role at the Conversation. Before ArtsHub, Watts was the General Manager of Fairfax Media's MyCareer.com. Misha Ketchell is the Editor. Previously, he was editor of Crikey, the founding editor of The Big Issue (Australia), editor of The Melbourne Weekly, and a reporter and feature writer for The Age. Ketchell was also employed by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) for the following programs: Media Watch, The 7:30 Report and The Drum.
Charis Palmer is the Deputy Editor and Head of Digital Strategy. Palmer joined The Conversation as News Editor in 2012 after working as editor of Business Spectator, where she was also founding editor of Technology Spectator. She later served as editor of iTnews and has also run her own publishing business focused on the banking sector.
Liz Minchin is the Executive Director and Sunanda Creagh is the Head of Digital Storytelling.
Andrew Jaspan was the founding Editor-in-Chief and resigned from The Conversation in March 2017. He previously edited Sunday Times Scotland (1988–1990), Scotland on Sunday (1990–1994), The Scotsman (1994), The Observer (1995–1996), and the Sunday Herald (1999–2004) in the United Kingdom (UK), and he was also Publisher and Managing Director of The Big Issue (UK) (1996–1998). Jaspan was invited to be editor-in-chief of Melbourne, Australia's The Age and The Sunday Age newspapers in 2004, and remained in this role until 2008. He is a Senior Fellow in the Department of Infrastructure Engineering, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, and the Asia-Pacific Director of Innovation Media Consulting.
Canada (as of June 2017)
The Conversation Canada launched on June 26, 2017.
- Scott White - Editor
France (as of 21 September 2015)
United Kingdom (as of 22 October 2014)
- Stephen Khan - Editor
- Matt Warren - Deputy Editor
- Jo Adetunji - Deputy Editor
- Jonathan Este - Associate Editor
United States (as of June 2016)
- Maria Balinska - Editor
- Martin LaMonica - Deputy Editor and Environment + Energy Editor
The online publication completed its third readers survey in the first half of 2014 and the results showed that 1.5 million unique visitors visit the website at the time of the survey—according to Jaspan, this total increased to two million by October 2014. The 2014 survey also revealed that 35 per cent of the Conversation Australia's audience is located beyond Australia's borders, while 90 per cent of readers possess an undergraduate degree, or a higher educational attainment. The vast majority of the audience is under the age of 45 years; just over half of the readership earns more than A$100,000 per year; and the gender split is fairly even, with the proportion of female readers slightly higher.
The 2015 reader survey results showed an audience of 2.6 million users on site, and a reach through creative commons republication of 23 million.
The Conversation’s FactCheck unit has become the first fact-checking team in Australia and one of only two worldwide accredited by the International Fact-Checking Network, an alliance of fact-checkers hosted at the Poynter Institute in the US. The only other fact-checking team accredited under this process is the Washington Post’s Fact Checker.
The accreditation process is part of a broader effort by media outlets to restore reader trust in a world where anyone can claim the title FactCheck – whether or not they have approached the task in a fair, rigorous and impartial way. The accreditation means The Conversation’s unique approach to fact checking has been assessed by an external panel as compliant with the code of fact-checker’s principles, which require non-partisanship, fairness, transparency of funding, sources and methods, and a commitment to open and honest corrections.
The Conversation uses a custom publishing and content management system built in Ruby on Rails. The system enables contributors to collaborate on articles in real time. Articles link to author profiles—including disclosure statements—and personal dashboards show authors' engagement with the public.
Partners (Australia & New Zealand)
Funding and support has been provided by RMIT University, CBA, Corrs Chambers Westgarth, the Commonwealth Government’s Department of Education and the State of Victoria Department of Business and Innovation, City of Melbourne.
As of December 2017, the list of members includes:
- Australia and New Zealand School of Government
- Australian Catholic University
- Australian National University
- Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation
- Central Queensland University
- Charles Darwin University
- Curtin University
- Deakin University
- Edith Cowan University
- Federation University Australia
- Flinders University
- Griffith University
- Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research
- James Cook University
- La Trobe University
- Macquarie University
- Massey University
- Murdoch University
- Queensland University of Technology
- South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute
- Southern Cross University
- Swinburne University of Technology
- The University of Notre Dame Australia
- University of Adelaide
- University of Canberra
- University of Newcastle
- University of New England
- University of New South Wales
- University of Queensland
- University of South Australia
- University of Southern Queensland
- University of the Sunshine Coast
- University of Sydney
- University of Tasmania
- University of Waikato
- University of Western Sydney
- University of Wollongong
- Victoria University
- Victoria University of Wellington
The Conversation has been described by Quadrant Online as "one-sided" and "staffed by left-leaning refugees from commercial news organisations' withered operations." Despite editor-in-chief Andrew Jaspan's claim that, "There has to be total transparency in what you do," a former radio host claimed to have uncovered evidence, presented in January 2013, that the website did not properly disclose that one of their authors was a union official.
Furthermore, TheCommentator noted that, during the ongoing Greek financial crisis, a "startling number of Greek social scientists and economists... have piled in with pro-Syriza articles in highbrow online publications like Open Democracy and The Conversation."
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