Werner's Blog — Opinion, Analysis, Commentary
Journalism with an academic flavour

Journalism is not just about reporting news; it is also about disseminating knowledge and insights, and about analysis. That in turn is close to what academics do: research and analysis, and sharing knowledge and insights with our students. From there it is not a big step to reaching a broader public audience. Enter the idea of "academic journalism", distinct from "news journalism". Naturally, the two can overlap a fair bit, but the main idea is that academics can contribute their deep expertise when the stories of the day unfold.

The caveat about "academic journalism" is that academics aren't operating at the speed of the news cycle. We are generally a reflective bunch who want to ponder things for a while before commenting about anything. Academic writing is also rather different from journalistic writing. So is there a role for academics turning to journalism? In the past, many academics have written op-ed pieces for newspapers. But a whole newspaper written mostly by academics and other experts? It's not fiction. It's already here. In a landscape where many newspapers cannot survive financially because advertisements are moving online and readers drop subscriptions, a new platform for independent thought and rigorous analysis is a welcome addition to the media world. Even better, it is freely available to the public, courtesy of support from a consortium of universities that pick up the cost and ensure journalistic integrity and independence.

Enter The Conversation. Launched in Canada in June 2017 as an independent source of news and views, The Conversation is essentially a professionally-edited online newspaper that tries to provide independent and high-quality "explanatory journalism". Authors are vetted for their expertise and must disclose funding sources and potential conflicts of interest. The project started in Australia in 2001 and since has expanded to the UK, the United States, New Zealand, and Indonesia.

In Canada, The Conversation has celebrated its first birthday last month. My UBC colleague Sumeet Gulati and I have contributed our first article to the paper about the consequences of Ontario's new government scrapping the province's cap-and-trade system: Taxpayers will back a carbon tax if they get a cheque in the mail. The editorial team that handled our article helped make it a more readable, ensured that links were added where useful, and added imagery. The editing process is professional and supported by an author-friendly online platform. Even better, many articles that appear there are shared with other newspapers. For example, our op-ed also appeared in the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post, the Montreal Gazette, and the Huffington Post. Topical articles may find wide dissemination.

Economists in particular have much to contribute to the public debate on many topics, and I hope that colleagues around the country will find it a useful platform to contribute to. Fellow academic economists may wonder about the incentives for contributing to such a platform. They can help share your insights and perspectives even when traditional newspapers find the content "too academic". The less obvious benefit is that writing a journalistic piece may help with your academic writing. Our academic prose is often long-winded and, let's face it, a bit boring. Sprucing up our prose with a bit of journalistic flair without compromising academic rigour would help make many research papers more readable. If our economic research wants to be influential, we have to translate our insights into plainer language for a greater audience. So start tapping on your keyboards and join The Conversation.

Posted on Wednesday, July 18, 2018 at 19:30 — #General
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