UBC journalism professors receive over $200,000 in funding for new media startup

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) has awarded several UBC journalism professors approximately $200,000 for the launch of The Conversation Canada. The highly competitive SSRHC partnership development grant will be used to develop a national version of the widely successful Melbourne-based media organization, The Conversation.

“What [The Conversation] does is supports academics by providing trained editors that work with them in figuring out what’s relevant and also how to communicate their expertise in a way that’s accessible to the public,” said Alfred Hermida, director of UBC's Graduate School of Journalism and project lead working alongside Mary Lynn Young.

The Conversation is written by 40,000 academics and researchers globally, and has established national sites for the UK, France, and Africa. This media organization provides independent analysis and commentary, and since it is published under Creative Commons, other media outlets such as The Washington Post, CNN and Maclean’s are able to re-publish their content.

“[The Conversation is] a conduit and a great way for academic research to be accessed and engaged by larger audiences,” said Mary Lynn Young, former director of the UBC Graduate School of Journalism and member of the launch team for The Conversation Canada.

“We’re hoping that it helps the university sector, helps mainstream media and helps the public in terms of having access to academic research that might not normally be out in the public realm,” said Young.

Ashley Whillans, public scholar and PhD student in social psychology at UBC, published content on The Conversation in November 2015, and over a quarter of a million people read and shared her article.

“One really fun thing about The Conversation is that it encourages debate, so not only is it a great way for students to get the topics covered that they care about and to write it themselves, but also to have real dialogue between yourself and other intellectual leaders in your field — it’s really exciting,” said Whillans.

Hermida also emphasized the value that The Conversation has for students.

“Here you have essentially a team that is ready to listen and work with you,” he said. “If you have a good idea, you can pitch it to The Conversation Canada newsroom and they will work with you to develop that. That provides incredible support and training for doctoral students who are trying to establish themselves as scholars and public intellectuals.”

“My experience writing for The Conversation was amazing, not only because my research was widely disseminated, but also because of the teachable moments that were embedded in the process,” said Whillans.  “I really got a lot of great feedback about my writing in the process of publishing my article.”

In terms of when The Conversation Canada will launch, Hermida and Young have not yet announced a date to the public.

“We’re actively working with universities as funding partners for the initiative and we’ve received positive response from the academic community,” said Young. “We’re hopeful to launch as soon as we have it all in place.”