KnightBlog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Journalism
Sep 15, 2015

Conversation US bridges gap between universities and local communities with compelling content

Posted by Maria Balinska

Maria Balinska is editor of The Conversation US, which is receiving $120,000 in support from Knight Foundation to expand the reach of its content to local communities. Above: A news meeting at The Conversation US in Boston. Photo courtesy The Conversation US. 

We’ve been eating cake in The Conversation US office, despite the heat outside, because we have things to celebrate.

Sept. 8 marked a milestone for our Boston-based team: One year ago we started working on the American edition of The Conversation, the digital platform that brings together academics and journalists to publish topical and engaging content for the general public. Now, 1,491 articles, 1,382 authors and 30 million reads later, we can say we’re truly part of the American media landscape. 

The Conversation is a global network and a not-for-profit media organization. Launched in Australia in 2011, we also have publications in the United Kingdom and Africa.

In the U.S. we’re in operation thanks to the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation – and the hospitality of Boston University.  

One of our proudest achievements has been how our content is being republished – under a Creative Commons license – by national publications such as Fortune, Newsweek, Time and The Washington Post.

And now Knight Foundation support will enable us to build on this experience to promote the distribution of our articles to local and regional newspapers across the United States.

Our new newspaper outreach project manager will work with editors in the field to place Conversation US content that is relevant to local readers and gather intelligence about communities’ interests and concerns that can be fed back into our story commissioning process. The aim is to strengthen current affairs coverage at the local level while also helping to bridge the gap between universities and their communities. 

For this pilot project we will be working with Community Newspapers Holdings and its editors in 130 communities across 23 states. The idea is to establish an effective model of partnership that we can replicate with other news organizations and syndicates. The folks at Community Newspapers are as excited as we are.

As Bill Ketter, their senior vice president for news, puts it: “People are far more selective today in what they read and find valuable. They crave smart information that goes beyond the who, when and where of the news to the why it happened and how it affects their lives. They want clarity. That’s the type of content that The Conversation strives to produce, and that’s the reason we are joining in this pilot project. It will connect the issues confronting [our] communities with experts who can intelligently discuss them and offer solutions.”

Now all we need to do is appoint a project manager – and then eat some more cake.   

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