Day 17: Get your research to the media: The Conversation

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Your next Challenge is to get the word out about your research to the media. Today we will focus on The Conversation – one of Australia’s largest independent news and commentary sites, which delivers expertise from the academic and research community direct to the public. This makes it a great place to start pitching your ideas, and 60% of authors are contacted by other media for follow-up.

Doing so can help you gain wide exposure for your articles. The Conversation boasts a monthly audience of 2.7 million users on the site, and a reach of 23 million through republication. The Conversation welcomes republishing of their articles, which accounts for one reason why they have such a wide reach.

Today we are going to set-up an author profile on The Conversation website, familiarise ourselves with their writing guidelines and brainstorm a pitch.

Create an author profile

Regardless of whether you have written for The Conversation or not, you can have an author profile on their site. This has the added benefit of being another spot to have your optimised web bio, professional image and link back to your UON profile, and this is definitely worthwhile as it’s a low-maintenance web profile that ranks highly with search engines – which we all know by now is important for “Googleability”. Also, editors from The Conversation look through their author profiles when searching for expertise.

Time to sign-up:

  1. Go to https://theconversation.com/become-an-author

AuthorProfile

2. Enter your UON email address name and position, as well as education history and set up an account password.

3. Add your web bio, professional image and a link to your UON researcher profile.

Done!

How to write for The Conversation

Newsrooms are very busy places and it can be difficult to get the attention of editors with so many deadlines flying at them and an inbox full of article ideas. So it’s beneficial to familiarise yourself with how to pitch to and write for the media outlet that you want to target.

Here are some tips for pitching to and writing for The Conversation, which are written by their editors:

Save yourself time before pitching a story

  • Read before you write. What kind of stories do we cover? Do you think yours would work for a broad Australian and international audience, written and edited in plain English? Have a quick look through The Conversation sections, listed along the top of their site.
  • Have you done a keyword search to check if your issue has been covered? Go to the search box in the top right-hand corner of the site.
  • Is this your area of expertise?
  • Pay attention to what’s going on in the news. What’s being talked about?
  • Do you know something no one else knows? Is it the kind of thing the general public – not just other specialists – might be interested in?
  • Have you discovered something new that significantly changes the way we think about or understand a wider issue?
  • Have you read and could interpret an important, complicated document no one else understands?

An easy way to keep on top of what is published is to subscribe to The Conversation’s morning newsletter. You can quickly scan the headlines, read about new research, and know what others in your field are writing about. The Australian edition of the newsletter goes out to more than 63,000 readers around the world each weekday: theconversation.com/au/newsletter

Who are you writing for?

The Conversation’s audience is incredibly broad. While one-in-five of their readers are academics, most are not. Readers include senior politicians and public servants, journalists, business people, students, retirees, and people who are simply curious and have Googled in search of an answer. A third of their readers are from outside Australia. If you do write for them, think of a friend who’s not an expert in your area, and imagine you’re having a conversation with them.

That broad readership means that you can’t assume the editors have expert knowledge. Their job is to ask, “What does that mean? And why does that matter?” because these are the questions readers will ask. The majority of their readers are aged 18-44.

How to pitch like a pro

Save yourself time and energy: don’t send them an already written piece or a journal article. The editors at The Conversation are asked to pitch your ideas at their morning meeting – so it needs to be short, sharp and engaging.

Write a 100-word explanation of your idea, ideally including an example to show why this story matters.

If explaining why your story matters seems hard, try talking about it to someone else, outside your field of expertise. What questions do they ask?

If they were to ask you bluntly, “So what?” – what would you say? That’s the first question readers will be asking in trying to decide whether to spend the time reading your article. If you can answer that “So what?” question well, it gives you a much better chance of your pitch being accepted; more people reading your article; and more people sharing it, greatly increasing your work’s reach.

Once you’re happy with your 100 word pitch, go to theconversation.com/pitches/new, copy and paste your 100 words and select what you think would be the most appropriate section, fill in your details, and hit ‘Pitch idea’.

You’ll get an automated reply explaining when to expect someone to get back to you, and what to do if you don’t hear back from an editor quickly. Each section can get dozens of pitches a day, so they can’t say yes to every pitch.

Most Conversation articles are only 600-800 words, so starting with a clear idea of the most important point(s) you want to cover will save you time, and help the editors give you a quick, clear response to your pitch.

 Agreeing on a brief & deadline

If your pitch is accepted, the editor will send you a brief. It will include a link to your author dashboard, where you can write your story directly into the system. You will be able to discuss this brief/structure of your article with your editor by email/phone.

It’s important to get this mutually agreed brief right before you start writing, to save everyone time. If the article that is submitted is different to what was agreed, it might mean your editor will ask you to revise the piece again. You’ll also agree on a first draft deadline; if you’re not sure you can meet it, please say so.

Writing tips

Start strong; answer the obvious questions

Work hard on the first paragraph to grab the reader’s interest. Start with a short, sharp statement of the article’s essential facts, in no more than two sentences. Start with what’s new, relevant, or surprising. Readers want to know Five Ws: who, what, where, when, why, and sometimes how.

Make a brief sketch of your main points and stick to them. Put the most important information first. This allows readers to explore a topic to the depth that their curiosity takes them (not everyone reads to the end).

 Tone

Write how people talk. A man should never “disembark from a vehicle” when he can “get out of a car”. Explain complex ideas. Don’t get too technical. Avoid jargon. If you write in The Conversation’s web system you can take advantage of their ‘Readability index’.

The readability rating is based on Flesch-Kincaid readability tests, set at the level of an educated 16-year-old. That’s still higher than many news media outlets (for instance, many newspapers still aim for a 12-year-old level of literacy). But there are good reasons to keep articles that simple: you want to share your expert knowledge with everyone, including people whose first language is not English.

 Referencing

If you make contentious statements, please back them up with research. The same goes for facts and figures; e.g. if you’re saying:

28% of Australians are obese. Reference with online links that readers can click on, preferably to full research papers, but to abstracts or news stories if the full paper isn’t available. The editors will help you add those in. But they don’t use footnotes or endnotes. Ideally, put your reference/web link in brackets beside each statement to be referenced.

Note: linking to your own research papers/ studies within the article when referencing is a great way to up the readership and sharing of your work online.

How to end

The last sentence should aim to summarise or reiterate the point made in your opening paragraph. Or you could raise the question of what should happen next.

Check you’ve stayed within the agreed word count, typically 600-800 words.

Headline tips

You can leave it to your editor to write a headline, but if you want to do a first draft the following tips can help:

  • Keep your headline simple and direct – it should be seven to 10 words at most, with the most relevant and important words at the start.
  • Avoid puns and “smart” headlines. Instead, aim for an accurate and engaging label that neatly summarises the content.
  • Names of people, things and places are good. Don’t abbreviate these.
  • Aim to employ active verbs, which lens muscle and emphasise the “actor” in the story, i.e. “Aspirin cuts cancer risk” or “WikiLeaks reveals flaws in government legislation.”
  • Think of the ways to distinguish your article from others. Is this a breakthrough? Does it answer an important question or solve a puzzle?
  • Would you read it? Remember, you are writing for an online readership. Ask yourself what keywords you would use in a search to find your story. Assuming you find it, would you then feel compelled to read beyond the headline? If not, try again.

Multimedia: images, graphs, videos & more

Photos, videos, tables and graphs can bring a story to life – so if you have any of those, it’s worth mentioning that in your pitch and in discussions with your editor if the pitch is accepted. The Conversation have a Multimedia Editor, who may also be able to help with interactive features for your story.

 What’s next after you submit for editing?

When you’re done, hit the ‘Submit’ button. This will email your editor to let them know you’re done.

Final approval – from The Conversation and from you

Once your editor is finished revising the article, they’ll send it back to you for approval. Respond to any questions or suggestions the editor has. Review the text, photos, captions and headline to make sure they’re all accurate. To see how the article will look when published, click ‘Preview’ at the top of the page.

If you want to make further changes, let your editor know you’ve done so. They are happy to keep reviewing the article until you are both happy with the content. When you are, hit ‘Approve’ in the top right corner of the editing page.

Note: They won’t publish until you have approved the story and filled in a disclosure statement.

Publishing

Talk to your editor about when your article will be published. Some articles go online quickly, others may not be published for a while.

 The Conversation will always respect any embargoes periods you specify.

When your article is published, send it around to your contacts and share on your social media channels. Also, share the possible publication date with UON media (Media@newcastle.edu.au) and FEDUA Research Communication Coordinator (Jessie.Reid@newcastle.edu.au) ahead of publication, as we’ll also be able to share your work through social media and the UON website.

Comments

Keep an eye on the comments section of your article on the day it is published to see if there are any important questions you want to answer, or discussions you’d like to be involved in. Staff from The Conversation actively moderate comments – but if you see any comments that concern you, you can hit the ‘Report’ button at the end of the comment, which will alert their site moderator and your editor.

Measuring your readership

On your author dashboard, you can see how many people are reading your article, where in the world it has been read, the latest tweets and comments on it, and where your article has been republished.

These metrics are increasingly being used in formal university Key Performance Indicators as a measure of public engagement.

Media follow-up

You may get calls from other media to do follow-up articles or interviews, which can have a great effect on increasing the reach and public impact of your work. If you haven’t been interviewed before, talking to the University media team can be a good place to get tips (Media@newcastle.edu.au).

But whether it’s talking to journalists or to the general public, you can apply many of the tips from this Challenge. Don’t forget to clearly answer “So what? Why should people care about this?” even before you’re asked – that way, there’s a good chance you’ll get people’s attention and keep them listening.

Many of the authors on The Conversation have been approached not only by news media, but also by respected journals, prospective students, new academic collaborators and even new research funders.

Homework

Your homework today is to brainstorm a pitch for The Conversation. Start by doing a keyword search of your topic areas on the website. Is there anything already written? Can you continue the conversation by adding a new idea?

Following the steps above on pitching, write your 100 word pitch.

If you are happy with your idea and would like to write an article for The Conversation in the near future, go to theconversation.com/pitches/new.

If you would like a second opinion or further advice, you can forward your 100 word pitch to Jessie.Reid@newcastle.edu.au.

Great work!

Only three days to go of the 20 Day Challenge, and we are wrapping it up with techniques for measuring the success of your ongoing efforts, starting tomorrow with social media and web analytics.

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