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A year in, The Conversation Canada makes its mark

The platform has gained new members and is getting ready to launch La Conversation Canada en français.

BY ANQI SHEN | JUN 20 2018

The Conversation Canada reaches its one-year mark next week. Since launching on June 26, 2017, the platform has published more than 800 articles written by academics in Canada under the banner of “academic rigour, journalistic flair,” and is averaging more than one million views per month of its content, according to editor Scott White.

In the first year, “what we wanted to do was first and foremost be accepted by the public,” particularly by those who were interested in “more serious, longer-form, explanatory journalism,” Mr. White said. Other goals included building relationships with academic authors, and engaging and attracting university members, which are the primary source of funding. “I’d say, on the basis of those three things, we’re doing quite well.”

Eight additional universities are supporting The Conversation Canada going into year two, joining the 18 founding members. And, with the support of Université de Montréal, the platform is set to launch a French version of the website, La Conversation Canada en français, in the fall, in collaboration with The Conversation France.

The Conversation Canada, like the seven other editions of the website around the world, offers academic researchers a platform to share their expertise with the general public. Roughly 70 percent of The Conversation Canada’s pageviews come through the republication of its stories by other media, while the rest come from its own website. About half of the audience is from outside Canada, according to Mr. White.

Articles on a range of topics have been picked up by media outlets in Canada and across the globe. Up until March of this year, an article on how to get rid of fruit flies in the kitchen was the most read. Then, an article about the disparity between male and female orgasms got picked up by the Daily Mail and ended up with more than 400,000 pageviews. The actions of U.S. president Donald Trump and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau have also been closely watched by scholars for The Conversation Canada.

When it comes to working with academics on journalistic content, sometimes with quick turnarounds, Mr. White said editors have been pleasantly surprised. “That was one of the unknowns. We’d spoken to our colleagues at The Conversation US, UK and Australia. Generally, we found that if people understand that we’re writing in a journalistic format, there have been very few problems.”

As someone who regularly works with data, Arvind Magesan, an associate professor of economics at the University of Calgary, penned two articles analyzing census data on immigrants in Canada. One of his pieces, published in January following U.S. president Donald Trump’s comment about “shit-hole countries,” was particularly timely given the controversy the president’s remark stirred up.

Writing for The Conversation, Dr. Magesan said, was “an excellent balance between keeping things general-interest and consumable, and also being rigorous and as careful as possible.” He also took the opportunity to respond to readers who were skeptical of how he came to his conclusions or presented the numbers. “I realized that the first comment would be more aggressive, and you take what they say seriously and at face value, and after a message or two back and forth it actually ends quite well,” he said.

The experience was a useful complement to his academic research, Dr. Magesan found, and he plans on writing more for the website. “It keeps you grounded in a sense, because you keep on top of what the public is seeing and thinking, and how they’re reacting to what they’re seeing in the news.”

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