By Shefali Rai, March 24 2022
On March 7, the University of Calgary’s Knowledge Engagement team hosted a workshop on how to pitch a story idea to The Conversation Canada — an independent online publication platform that works in partnership with academics and researchers exclusively to distribute articles for the more general audience. This workshop was geared towards the entire university community, from researchers and postdoctoral fellows to PhD and master’s students.
Starting off the webinar, Professor of Psychology and Associate Vice-President of Research Dr. Penny Pexman, introduced the audience to The Conservation Canada and shared her personal experience from a writer’s perspective.
“Our researchers have written about every topic imaginable [and have been] picked up by CNN, PBS, Today’s Parent, NPR and more,” said Pexman.
Pexman dove into her most recent article with The Conversation Canada that was centred around the psychology of why we all love word puzzles, specifically the popular new game, Wordle.
“We responded to the call out request. This is a form where an editor is looking for a piece on a particular topic with an expert at a university who is willing to write about it. I’ve done research about Scrabble, so maybe that’s relevant and we went from there,” Pexman said.
She further remarked on her favourite aspects of working with The Conversation Canada and how the pieces submitted are always grounded in research.
“I like the cognitive exercise of how we can make research interesting. I also like that my students can co-author the pieces with me,” said Pexman. “Finally, I like the reach. My five pieces together have more than a quarter of a million page views, and the most recent piece I wrote about Wordle just [received] over 100,000 views last night.”
Shifting gears from the webinar to the workshop side of the talk, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of The Conversation Canada Scott White, opened with an intriguing analogy to a Reese’s peanut butter cup advertisement from the 1970s.
“The people who write for us, who are the academics, are the chocolate,” said White. “[As] a team of journalists we have an expertise in presenting content in a way that people will read it and we are the peanut butter. The Conversation Canada is the peanut butter cup.”
White noted a couple of ways on how The Conversation Canada is different from other publishing platforms. He explained that all their academic authors are experts in their field of research with the benefits of being a not-for-profit publication.
“We’re independent, in the sense that we’re most interested in the idea. We’re not going to turn down an idea because quote ‘we don’t like the idea,’” he said.
White segued onto his tips and tricks for pitching an idea to The Conversation Canada by reminding the audience of the collaborative nature of their team of editors.
“What is your story, in one sentence, and why would someone who’s not an academic care? If you’re really struggling with that, get in touch with [your faculty] communication specialists,” he added.
White expressed how they are open to any type of story. He guided the audience to examples of the most popular articles on their website: Fourteen signs your daughter may have ADHD and Does my child have autism or is this ‘normal’ behaviour.
“Every single day these articles are read 500 to 1,000 times. The story is four years old, but the knowledge is still relevant. It helps people understand what’s going on in their own lives,” said White.
Finally, White conveyed that pitch ideas can be any unique idea the author can conjure up. He ended with a story about a powerful article published by an art historian that ultimately became the most read piece of 2020: Mike Pence’s fly: From Renaissance portraits to Salvador Dalí, artists used flies to make a point about appearances.
“How artists have depicted flies over the centuries —that was really interesting. If there’s a way to tie it to something that is relevant to today that’s great,” he said.
The UCalgary’s Knowledge Engagement (KE) team facilitates connections with The Conversation Canada and invited audience members to reach out to them about future callouts or if they’re simply not sure where to start. Future journalists and writers can be guided through consults with the KE team or through their faculty communicators.
To learn about writing for The Conversation Canada contact: email@example.com and visit the U of C website to get more tips on submitting a piece to The Conversation Canada. The webinar and workshop can also be found on the U of C website.