The Conversation (website)
|Foundation date||April 2010|
|Key people||Andrew Jaspan (Editor)
Lisa Watts (Chief Operating Officer)
Misha Ketchell (Managing Editor)
|Owner||The Conversation Trust|
|Slogan(s)||"Academic rigour, journalistic flair"|
|Type of site||Analysis, Commentary, Research, News|
|Launched||24 March 2011|
The Conversation is an independent source of news and analysis that uses content sourced from the academic and research community. Since The Conversation's launch in March 2011, it has grown to become one of Australia’s largest independent news and commentary website. Written by academics and professionally edited by journalists, The Conversation covers content across seven editorial desks: 'Arts + Culture', 'Business + Economy', 'Education', 'Environment + Energy', 'Health + Medicine', 'Politics + Society', and 'Science + Technology'. The website is part of the open access movement and publishes all content under a Creative Commons license.
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.
Andrew Jaspan is Executive Director and Editor. 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.
Lisa Watts is Chief Operating Officer. As of May 2011, Watts's 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 Managing 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 programmes Media Watch, The 7:30 Report and The Drum.
Robert Johanson is Chair of the Board of directors, alongside John Kirby (Deputy Chair), Andrew Jaspan (Managing Director), Jack Rejtman, Lisa Watts (Managing Director), Linda Price, Matt Goldberg, Michael Harte, Peter Doherty, Terry Cutler, Val Gostencnik and Vince FitzGerald. As of June 2013, the Chair of the Editorial board is Professor Robert Saint, Dean of Science at the University of Melbourne, while John Keane, Political Theorist at the University of Sydney, participates as an Observer.
While editing The Age (2004–2008), Jaspan met Glyn Davis, Vice-Chancellor at The University of Melbourne, and discovered a mutual concern for the future of quality journalism. In turn, this led to a discussion about the possibility of the university and the newspaper working more closely together.
Shortly after Jaspan left The Age, Davis invited him to review the university’s engagement with the public through its various knowledge transfer initiatives. Davis is deeply committed to the notion of a public-spirited (and funded) institution playing a fuller role in sharing their knowledge, expertise and wisdom with the public. In short, delivering tangible value back to the community.
Building on those conversations, Jaspan was given a desk at the university and access to some of its most senior academics, including Peter Rathjen then Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research). Rathjen outlined his view that the university should act as a resource for society, helping it understand and solve its big problems. That matched Jaspan’s interest in developing journalism beyond reporting primarily “the bad news” (things that have gone wrong) to providing analysis and what he called “solution-based journalism”.
Jaspan’s report recommended a new approach to allow the university to communicate direct to the public through a news and commentary website. Directed by a team of professional editors, the university would become "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. The report detailed the guiding principles, operating procedures, staffing and design of the website that would be known as "Drum" (later, the ABC launched a commentary website called The Drum).
The report was delivered in December 2008 to Davis and Pat Freeland-Small, the university’s Chief Marketing Officer. Although broadly accepted, the report was put on hold due to the severity of the Global Financial Crisis, as the university’s ability to fund the initiative was consequently hampered.
In February 2009, Jaspan was introduced to Jack Rejtman through a mutual contact. Rejtman had just arrived in Melbourne from Los Angeles, where he led product strategy for the "US 2008 Election" website at Yahoo! News. Their first meeting at a coffee bar in Balaclava, Melbourne quickly turned to a discussion about the "crisis facing journalism" that was taking its toll on every newsroom in the world, with layoffs, shut-downs and constant cutbacks affecting the quality of journalism.
Shortly afterwards, Jaspan was approached and was asked to consider the launch of a new online site for Australia modelled on the Huffington Post. Jaspan brought together Bruce Guthrie, who had just resigned as the editor of the Herald Sun, and Rejtman to discuss the project. After three months of proposal development, the backers decided against proceeding with the project in May 2009.
Jaspan thought Rejtman, with his MBA business skills and a knowledge of online journalism from his time at Yahoo!, may be interested in helping develop the Drum concept, and in response, Rejtman agreed that the concept could help address the growing need for quality content in the Australian media. Rejtman also suggested integrating aspects of professional networking and social media to make the website a starting point for the public to engage with the academic and research community. Together, Jaspan and Rejtman met with Davis again in May 2009 with a proposal to extend the original Drum concept beyond Melbourne University to the broader research sector. Davis agreed that the extended concept would provide a better service, help to establish independence and would secure funding.
Jaspan also brought in Chris Brown, a corporate finance specialist, who later became chairman of The Conversation Trust. Jaspan knew Brown through Graeme Wise, the CEO of The Body Shop in Australia. Wise was responsible for financially backing the launch of The Big Issue in Australia and, as of April 2013, serves as the publication's Patron.
In June 2009, Jaspan outlined the concept for a new trusted media service to John Brumby, then Premier of Victoria. Jaspan knew Brumby from his time as the editor of The Age. Brumby was intrigued by the idea and asked two officials from the Department of Premier & Cabinet to have a more detailed discussion about the project. The officials were keen the project had broad support and suggested including Monash University.
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 Industrial and Research Organisation.
Meanwhile, Davis asked Freeland-Small to provide office space and support so that Jaspan and Rejtman could scope out the business case for The Conversation and develop a proof of concept (POC). Davis then introduced the project to Monash Vice-chancellor Ed Byrne and the CEO of CSIRO, Megan Clark. By December 2009, Monash, CSIRO and the National Australia Bank had pledged support that enabled the project to progress significantly.
Jaspan and Rejtman hired Michael Morris, a leading member of the Ruby-on-Rails open source web developer community, to develop the POC. Morris then recruited designer Anthony Kolber and developer Ben Schwarz. Demonstrating how the concept would work—in particular the real-time, collaborative writing platform and public engagement dashboards—proved critical to the securing of funding. The overall look and feel was heavily derived from the Drum project.
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, Melbourne University, Monash University, University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), and University of Western Australia. 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 and Morris hired four developers to build the beta website. Jaspan hired Misha Ketchell in December, whom he knew from The Age, but Ketchell had since joined ABC TV’s Media Watch programme as a researcher. Together, Jaspan and Ketchell hired 11 professional editors who began working towards a launch date of 1 February 2011—the beta site was launched to the public on 24 March 2011.
In November 2012, Robert Johanson became chairman of The Conversation. Johanson is responsible for numerous roles: he is the Chairman of Bendigo and Adelaide Bank; the director of the Grant Samuel Group; Deputy Chancellor at the University of Melbourne; Chairman of both the Australia India Institute and the Melbourne University Fund; and Johanson is also the director of the Robert Salzer Foundation for the arts. He is also a sheep farmer.
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 and had maintained close contact thereafter. Grattan's departure from The Age sent a clear message that transformational media change was being taken very seriously. 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.
In the two years since the launch of The Conversation, the website has become the most read independent news and commentary media source in Australia. As of May 2013, the website attracts more than 1 million unique browsers every month, 30 per cent of who are based overseas. The website's 15 editors work together with over 5,000 registered academic authors to make The Conversation Australia’s largest “virtual newsroom”.
The Conversation’s authors are academics and researchers who work with professional journalists to write articles that are accessible to a general audience. There are over 5,000 academic authors writing for The Conversation.
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.
In addition to commissioning original content, The Conversation summarises research findings from Australian institutions and international partners and then links back to those institutions.
The online publication completed its third readers survey in the first half of 2013 and as the results showed that 850,000 unique visitors visit the website at the time of the survey, The Conversation Australia can be considered Australia's most read independent news source. The 2013 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 AU$100,000 per year and the gender split is fairly even, with the proportion of female readers slightly higher. The media outlet received 4,200 completed surveys during the third readers survey, a figure that represents a 20 per cent response rate.
The Conversation uses a custom publishing and content management system built in Ruby on Rails.
The system enables academic authors and professional editors to collaborate on articles in real time. Articles link to author profiles and include disclosure statements allowing for greater transparency into author credentials and motivations. Authors have their own personal dashboards that show engagement with the public.
Ongoing funding and support has been provided by RMIT University; Australian Associated Press; Commonwealth Bank of Australia; Corrs Chambers Westgarth; Ernst & Young; the Commonwealth Government’s Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education; and the State of Victoria Department of Business and Innovation.
The growing list of universities with paid membership includes:
- Charles Darwin University
- Deakin University
- Flinders University
- Griffith University
- La Trobe University
- Massey University (New Zealand)
- Murdoch University
- Queensland University of Technology
- Swinburne University of Technology
- University of Canberra
- University of Newcastle
- University of South Australia
- University of Southern Queensland
- University of Tasmania
- University of Western Sydney
- Victoria University
The Conversation UK
The Conversation launched into the United Kingdom (UK) on 16 May 2013 with the following Leadership team: Jonathan Hyams as Chief Executive, Max Landry as Chief Operating Officer and Jaspan as Editor-in-chief. The original editorial team consisted of Stephen Khan (Editor), Megan Clement (Deputy Editor), Jonathan Este (Politics & Society), Jo Adetunji (Health & Medicine), Michael Parker (Environment & Energy), Will de Freitas (Business & Economics), Akshat Rathi (Science & Technology) and Laura Hood (Digital Economy).
After a successful six months initial pilot, sufficient funds were raised to continue the UK project and to enlarge the editorial team. Several new editors joined including Annabel Bligh (Assistant Commissioning Editor), Joel Dimmock (Senior Commissioning Editor), Josephine Lethbridge (Arts & Culture), Andrew Naughtie (Assistant Commissioning Editor), Steven Vass (Scotland), and Gemma Ware (Education). Seven additional universities joined the original 13 to form the Founding Partners group which now comprises: 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.
The following organisations have also provided financial contributions to The Conversation UK: HEFCE, Scottish Funding Council, Wellcome Trust, Nuffield Foundation, Research Councils UK, Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, SAGE Publications, Alliance for Useful Evidence and Nesta.
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- "Speaker Biographies". IPAA Writing Seminar: Making the complex accessible. IPAA Victoria. 17 July 2012. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
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- Andrew Jaspan (April 2011). "Podcasts". ABC Services. ABC. Retrieved 19 April 2013.
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- "Our People". The Big Issue. The Big Issue. 2013. Retrieved 19 April 2013.
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- Roy Greenslade (22 March 2013). "Jaspan brings academic news website to Britain". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 April 2013.