The Conversation spreads its academic words

After opening its first international offshoot at London’s City University in May, the Australian-based online academic newsletter, The Conversation, is planning to open in other, as yet unnamed, countries – while its monthly unique visitor numbers at home have tripled over the past year to 1.4 million, with 400,000 readers outside Australia.

Andrew Jaspan, the founding editor and chief executive, said at the time of the UK launch that 13 British universities had agreed to back the project, along with the Wellcome Trust, the Nuffield Foundation and the higher education funding councils for England, Wales and Scotland.

In Australia, the publication is backed by 27 of the nation’s 39 public universities, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Massey University in New Zealand, and federal government grants.

Jaspan told his Australian readers last Monday that the “actual reach” of the antipodean newsletter was much greater because other media outlets were republishing The Conversation’s content in print and online.

“They do this because everything we publish is under Creative Commons, making The Conversation an open (and free) resource for the media to mine for articles, ideas and new people to interview,” Jaspan wrote.

A former UK newspaper editor and editor of Melbourne’s The Age, Jaspan launched the online newsletter in 2011.

He said the UK version had started with a team of 12 journalists and had just increased the number to 16 while also appointing an editor in Scotland to help with next year’s Scottish independence referendum and the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

“We also plan to launch elsewhere and should have more news on that shortly. In the meantime, with the support of [Melbourne’s philanthropic] Myer Foundation, we will be appointing a full-time Jakarta editor to work with Indonesian universities. There is real interest in our content from the Indonesian media,” Jaspan said.

Apart from publishing the daily newsletter, written by academics in universities across Australia and, increasingly from other countries including the United States, The Conversation has moved into book publishing.

Its third volume, The Story of the 2013 Election, was launched at Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday.

Jaspan said the online site had attracted high traffic throughout the Australian election campaign in September, which culminated in 360,000 unique visitors for the last week alone.

“I think our relative success is down to the fact that we are trying to produce something different: high-grade content sourced from the university and research sector, which is curated by professional editors, while together we make every effort to adhere to high standards and ethics,” he said.