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Season’s greetings from The Conversation: what’s really new in new media?

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There is a lot of noise about new ways of doing journalism just now. Pledges have been made that 2019 will be the year news is “unbroken”, and that being slow will be a good thing. Those who seek to build media projects from scratch, forging bonds of trust with the public and aiming to burnish solid credentials rooted in the finest traditions of journalism are to be applauded. Simply surviving is far from easy, whatever the background and experience of those at the helm.

So at The Conversation, we wish the very best of luck to projects such as the English edition of Dutch start up The Correspondent, and Tortoise Media, two high-profile bids to construct reader-funded businesses. Alongside those though, are publications, often at local and regional levels, battling for visibility, viability and readers. They too can espouse the values of quality journalism, develop novel ways of supporting small teams and challenge poles of power. The Ferret in Scotland, for instance, has set out on an admirable truth-seeking mission, building a loyal, paying reader base and running well-attended public events and journalism training along the way.

And from its home in Stockholm The Local, over a 15-year period, has constructed a Europe-wide network of English language sites that reports, entertains, and wins awards. A blended model of advertorials and reader contributions has made its journalists a fixture in the news conferences of continental capitals.

Pioneers

Hats off to the sometimes less-heralded projects that survive, and thrive, often seeing their exclusives scooped off by the giant networks with little or no credit given in return. I am sure these stoic pioneers are already viewed as models by those now seeking to enter the ring.

But of course, there are always fallers. Wikitribune was launched in late 2017 by the co-founder of Wikipedia along with a team of professional journalists, and sought to engage readers in the editing process. By the end of 2018, the journalists, some extremely talented and experienced, had been laid off. Even a small team swallows significant funding rapidly.

The road from the old media world to the new is flanked by the tombstones of bright ideas. And that is frankly, unsurprising. One often senses that certain “new media” initiatives merely rebuild chunks of the old. Indeed, I fear that at the heart of some projects lies a vision that seeks to create a home for good journalists, rather than a home of good journalism that people will be eager to support in the long term.

A genuine new way

The Conversation faces many of the same challenges other new media projects grapple with. However, it is different – both in terms of the product and the funding model. Our content is derived from a sharing of skills between journalists and academics – and it is the latter who are our bylined deliverers of knowledge to the public. Our professional editors work with them, to ensure academic expertise is channelled to a general audience. We aim for journalism that is trustworthy, reliable, useful and timely. This is a global news service grounded in research that’s free to read and to republish. We believe in expertise.

In the last few weeks, this has been clearly illustrated in our coverage of the COP24 climate talks, the ongoing Brexit wranglings, and our celebrated science journalism which seeks to take sometimes complex developments to new audiences – for instance the Curious Kids series.

For the member universities that fund our project, The Conversation is one route to fulfilling some of their core objectives. Higher education institutions are cornerstones of their communities, delivering learning in multiple ways. Becoming part of the new media landscape through The Conversation is, for many universities, a key way of strengthening bonds with the public and illustrating the broader benefits of the work academics do.

A charity – for the public good

Because that educational mission is at the core of our project, The Conversation is able to operate as a charity. It exists for the public good. Again, this makes us extremely unusual as a journalism organisation.

In the coming months we’ll build upon the achievements of the past few years that have brought us a monthly global readership of around 40m and eight international editions. A project funded by Research England, which regards The Conversation as a crucial channel for academics, will see us roll out a new series of investigative articles in 2019. And watch this space for news of our evolving podcast offerings, engaging academics from across our global network.

In 2019 we will continue to seek to generate unique content that is trustworthy, and grounded in research knowledge. We’ll court more republishers and media partners in more countries. And we’ll ask for your thoughts on the subjects we should be looking at.

So as others declare themselves to be new in the new year, don’t forget that The Conversation really is. We don’t always shout loudly or come up with slick and costly marketing schemes, but we hope we produce something that you, our readers and members of The Conversation community, value. If you have views on what we do, then please let us know. Without your input, The Conversation is incomplete.

In the meantime, have a great festive break and thanks again for your continued support. We will launch fewer articles over the holiday period, but there will be a series of special emails and reminders of some of the journalism we’ve rolled out in 2018. A full publishing schedule will recommence on January 2.