Some scholars — like political scientists and housing analysts — are natural fixtures in the media. But what about a medieval historian?
Turns out they’ve got plenty of stories to share, if you adopt a journalist’s eye.
With the right questions, you might get, for instance, a nuanced comparison between the rise of Theresa May in the United Kingdom and gender politics in medieval literature.
“I’m so often in conversation with academics and they say something and I go, ‘That would be such an interesting story,’” said UBC Journalism director Alfred Hermida. “Of course, they’ve never thought about it like that because that’s not what they do.”
Those insights are gaining a new platform with the launch of The Conversation Canada.
Developed by Hermida and j-school professor Mary Lynn Young, the non-profit startup showcases articles written by researchers and academics and edited by journalists.
The articles are published under a Creative Commons license, which allows media outlets to republish them for free. More than 22,000 media outlets have used The Conversation’s content, including The Washington Post, Maclean’s and The Guardian.
It’s the sixth affiliate of the global Conversation network, which launched in Australia in 2011. Others versions have sprung up in the U.K., U.S., France and Africa.
Scott White, former editor-in-chief of The Canadian Press, is steering the Canadian version. He’s joined by five editors — three in a newsroom at the University of Toronto and two at UBC Journalism.
“The interest and engagement from researchers across the country as word has spread that we’re preparing for launch has been amazing,” White said in a statement.
Building a startup
“It takes a small village,”said Young. “We discovered just simply getting to the newsroom is a difficult journey.”
The two successfully applied for two Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grants nearly totalling $250,000. It gave them the seed money to start fundraising and forging partnerships with universities.
The site has 17 Canadian universities across nine provinces as founding members, as well as three foundations, a research institute, SSHRC, Universities Canada and The Canadian Press.
Hermida and Young also faced the challenge of starting a non-profit, which meant establishing bylaws and a board of directors. “We benefited from the UBC institutional support there,” Hermida said.
In a recent Globe and Mail op-ed, Hermida and Young urged the federal government to establish funding to support media startups.
“It’s no secret that Canada has a very concentrated media market,” Hermida said. “We’ve seen a decline in established media. This is an opportunity to create an addition to that landscape.”
“We can try things out that you can’t try in the commercial sector because you’d have to make money off it,” he added. “Here, we can do it as a research project and learn from it.”
Two newly minted UBC journalism graduates are serving as research assistants this summer, focusing on social media and audience development. Two other journalism students worked on the project over the past year, plus another recent graduate.
With the launch, Hermida and Young will be shifting their attention to researching The Conversation.