A Year in the Life of a News Site With Scholarship In Its DNA

Last year on May 16, a group of editors and journalists joined together and to launch The Conversation UK – an online news website bringing a unique combination of academic rigor and journalistic flair to the world of academic research.

The past year has seen the site go from strength to strength with its group of experienced journalists collaborating with academics to generate news research and analysis articles that are disseminated across mainstream media. SAGE (the parent of Social Science Space) is delighted to be a supporting partner of the site, aiding the important role that The Conversation plays in helping academics to engage directly with the public and increasing the reach, impact and public understanding of high quality and influential academic research – a key publishing ethos.

Celebrating their one year anniversary, SAGE Connection sat down with Editor Stephen Khan to ask him about The Conversation’s journey over the past 12 months, and to get each of the editors and journalists to pick out their most influential/impactful piece from their first year. You are in for a treat!


Stephen thank you for joining us and happy birthday to you and The Conversation team!

Thank you! We can’t quite believe how quickly this past year has gone.

ConversationUK logoTell us a bit about the past year and what has stood out for you.

We’ve learned loads this past year, and loved working with real experts in their fields. Since launch, our editors have published such a wide variety of articles by academics that have set agendas, opened eyes and generated debate. It has been a real adventurous and exciting journey to be a part of, and one that we are of course looking forward to developing further.

What have been the team’s highlight pieces then?

It’s a tough one, we have had some great pieces over the year, but inevitably, there are a few pieces that really stand out for each of us. It’s not necessarily the ones read by hundreds of thousands of people (though obviously we like those too). Sometimes, a piece has made waves or excited a small group in a way that reminds us that what we are doing is valuable as well as fascinating  – and these are the pieces that have really stood our for us this year.

So drum roll……The Conversation editors’ picks for their first year are:

“This was an early piece that neatly sums up all the major privacy issues that we’ve revisited regularly ever since.”

“This is the perfect example of the kind of article I’d like to do more of. Some new research, the discovery of a historical text, providing an original and very different perspective on current issues.”

“Simple. A scientist dug up an interesting story and explained the science of it very clearly. It was widely followed up”

“Everyone is fascinated by the mysteries of the brain, so we did a special series on it, kicking off with this great piece.”

“This not only got really healthy international attention, but began a really successful week of articles. An especially satisfying example of authors writing from first-hand experience in their countries.”

“This piece by David Bell, the vice-chancellor of Reading, was very well timed to feed into debate around political intervention into Ofsted. It dominated national media for a day, leading BBC on all platforms, was picked up across print media, and has been referenced in many places since.”

“A cool and cogent explanation of how the floods caused such damage, at a time of great finger pointing and blaming of everyone from the local drainage boards to the EA to the secretary of state, and why without policy change they will do so again.”

“This shark swam across the Atlantic, and got the tabloids in a frenzy, but the science of what was going on was brilliantly explained here by a zoologist from Aberdeen University”

“We’ve put together an expert panel to tackle the biggest political event of 2014 – with this piece it hit full stride”

“Mark Armstrong at Oxford applied economic theory to a topical issue that affects all of our readers, and presents it in an accessible way. Nice anecdote about New York tailors too. US site Quartz republished the piece.”

“Emergency room doctors see health at its most critical, day in day out. I thought this piece captured a real sense of the personal in a job that is under pressure to be professional at all times and where it is difficult to find candidness. It also shows how medical and academic knowledge can work well with a human angle, particularly important in health.”

  • Jonathan Este, deputy editor (politics and society) – Hard evidence. How biased is the BBC?

“Because it flies in the face of what is taken for conventional wisdom: that the BBC tends to favour left politics and “small l” liberal commentators. This piece shows the value of The Conversation as it uses empirical evidence to debunk a popular – and very damaging – myth. Has been widely republished and linked to.”

“We’ve made a conscious effort to boost our coverage of the Chinese economy and this piece tackled a key area of worry for global markets. Just how reliable are the Chinese economic data on which so much seems to depend? Carsten Holtz at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology reveals that although there are some fundamental fragilities, algorithmic tests throw up no red flags on some key data sets. And he reminds us all that the numbers we publish in the West can be just as prone to massaging… or can just be plain wrong”

“This was a real ground-breaker for us. It showed how we can dominate the news agenda (it was the P3 lead on the Guardian and was followed up by every major news outlet). And it illustrated that by bringing real expertise to fascinating subjects (in this case Prof Ian Wilmut) we can inform reliably and with flair in a way the academic can have confidence in.”

“The piece illustrates how we are pioneering a new form of journalism. When big news is breaking we can tap into an international network of specialist knowledge that is often in the right place at the right time. Here we had a post-Soviet geographer on streets of Donetsk at a pivotal moment for Ukraine, and indeed the entire post-Soviet world.”

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SAGE Publishing, the parent of Social Science Space, is a leading international publisher of journals, books, and electronic media for academic, educational, and professional markets. An independent company, SAGE has principal offices in Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Melbourne and Washington DC.

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