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From the Editors

‘Mainstream’ is not a dirty word

Half of The Conversation’s audience reads us on their phone. Gauthier DELECROIX/Flickr, CC BY

One of our academic authors recently commented that The Conversation has become “very mainstream in what it’s publishing”. It was a loaded comment, considering people increasingly distrust “the MSM”, sometimes calling it “the lamestream media”. However I’m taking it as a compliment, since we’re now read by more than five million people every month from all reaches of Australia and beyond, millions more with republishing.

“Mainstream” is at the heart of what The Conversation needs to be to fulfil our aim of ensuring quality, diverse and intelligible content reaches the widest possible audience.

As Darrin Durant said in one of last week’s most–read articles: “science can be viewed as an elite endeavour.” The Edelman Trust Survey shows people increasingly prefer the views of “people like me” to those of experts. Bombarding people with more facts doesn’t work to change their mind, particularly if they see those with the facts as part of a “cultural elite”.

We are a small team, but if The Conversation can’t help convince mainstream audiences of the value of experts and their expertise then I don’t think we’re delivering on our charter.

We say no to a lot of pitches and favour those with research at their heart. Then we work with authors to ensure they back up their claims with evidence and explain it in a way mainstream audiences can understand. This is very different to any other media organisation.

Although our audience is growing, it skews older, and is highly educated. While this would be a plus for many for-profit advertising driven media companies, it’s a challenge for us.

To help reach a broader audience we appointed a head of digital storytelling (Sunanda Creagh), to help us expand the types of stories we tell, with more short animated videos and special products like Curious Kids and our comic explainers from our multimedia team.

Every time we develop a new editorial product we start by ensuring the academic expert is at the heart of the storytelling. We make decisions every day on how to spend our limited time, and this means we can’t cover everything. We don’t choose what to cover based on what we think will get the most “clicks”. But when we choose issues unlikely to attract a mainstream audience our editing gives them the best possible chance of reaching and being understood by as many people as possible.

As we recently pointed out in our submission to the Select Committee on the Future of Public Interest Journalism, reliable information is essential for healthy democracy, but it does so much more than help us take part in public debate or decide how to vote. It also helps decide what to do to stay healthy, how to keep our children safe online, or how to avoid the risks of problem gambling. These are just some of the mainstream issues we’re proud to cover at The Conversation.

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