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Eight editors, 10,000 specialist reporters: Andrew Jaspan launches The Conversation in UK

By Dominic Ponsford

A news website has launched today which has eight editors – but hopes to draw on the expertise of 10,000 specialist contributors.

The Conversation is the brainchild of former Observer and Sunday Herald editor Andrew Jaspan and first launched in Australia two years ago. The site has journalists as editors but draws on the expertise of academics and researchers to write its specialist content.

In Australia, The Conversation launched two years ago and now claims to be the most popular independent news website in the country attracting more than 850,000 unique visitors a month.

Jaspan launched The Conversation after losing his job as editor of The Age in Melbourne four years ago.

The Australian site has secured funding of around £6m, mainly from the university sector, to cover its first three years of operation.

The UK site has attracted £500,000 of funding to cover its first eight months and Jaspan is hopeful that more backers will come in once the site is up and running. He wants to grow it to a staff of at least 15 full-time editors.

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So far 13 universities have signed up to help fund the pilot scheme. Premises for The Conversation have been provided by City University, London. The UK site is edited by a former news editor for The Guardian, Stephen Khan, with Jaspan as editor-in-chief based in Australia.

Jaspan said: “In Australia we have 15 editors working with a virtual newsroom of 5,500 specialists. The problem in newsrooms is they are being hollowed out and specialists are going. In the UK I think we could draw on 10,000 or so contributors.”

The Conversation works by commissioning academics to write news-related articles in their specialist subject areas. They are also invited to pitch articles to the editors.

The Conversation is not for profit, contributors are not paid and it does not carry advertising.

Jaspan said: “The success in Australia has shown there is huge public demand for independent, high-quality, authenticated, and trusted content. I am confident The Conversation will very quickly establish a similar reputation and audience in the UK."

The universities funding the Conversation in the UK are: City University London, Aberdeen, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow Caledonian, Liverpool, Salford, Sheffield, Surrey, Warwick, University College London and the Open University.

It is also being funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Nuffield Foundation, the Higher Education Funding Councils for England and Wales and the Scottish Funding Council for higher education.

The Conversation UK is now going to seek financial backing from more of the UK’s 125 universities.

Any UK academic or researcher can contribute to the site, provided they can show they have relevant expertise in the subject area they are writing about. 

The Conversation UK has sections covering: business and economy, energy and environment, health and medicine, politics and society and science and technology.

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