Writing for the Conversation

The Conversation is an independent, nonprofit publisher of commentary and analysis, authored by academics and edited by journalists for the general public. On a mission “to promote truthful information and strengthen journalism by unlocking the rich diversity of academic research for audiences across America,” they publish short articles by academics on timely topics related to their research. Middlebury provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

Articles published in The Conversation are accessible to the general public and are republished by major news outlets (such as Time, CNN, Smithsonian Magazine, Scientific American, Newsweek, and more), generating thousands of views across multiple platforms.

In a partnership with the Associated Press, the AP distributes articles from The Conversation to its website and wire service, increasing readership. 

For more about the partnership between The Conversation and the Associated Press, read A common goal: media, universities and mission-driven foundations.

Read more about how The Conversation is different

Sign up to receive The Conversation newsletter.

Writing for The Conversation is a great way to begin publicly communicating because you don’t have to do it alone. As a contributor, you work collaboratively with an editor to write an explanatory story that is interesting, timely, and authoritative. Your article will not be published until you have signed off on it and no matter which outlet publishes it, the article will not be altered in any way.

See a full list of articles written and published by Middlebury faculty members.

The Conversation always is seeking ideas for stories, reactions to current events and scholarly takes on the news. Learn more about pitching a story idea to the editors.

If you have any questions, contact Sarah Ray, director of media relations, at ray@middlebury.edu or 802-443-5794.

How We Work with the Media

  • Develop positive communication with local & national media.
  • Supply the media with information about people & programs at Middlebury.
  • Promote newsworthy story ideas about Middlebury to the media.
  • Connect reporters, editors and producers with Middlebury faculty and staff who can contribute commentary to their news stories.
  • Help faculty and staff develop and submit opinion pieces.
  • Manage crisis communications.

Publicizing Your Event

The primary tool for publicizing campus events is the campus Web calendar. The Web calendar allows you to post events and then generate an email to share the event with relevant groups, including the media.

Publicizing campus events is the responsibility of the sponsoring organization. In cases where the speaker or event is likely to draw attention from the news media, the director of public affairs will manage all media relations related to the event.

Here is a contact list for some local news media calendars to which event listings may be sent:

Addison Independent (submit event)
calendar@sevendaysvt.com
Burlington Free Press Calendar (submit event)
Rutland Herald Calendar (submit event)

You must enter the information about your event into the Addison IndependentRutland Herald, and Burlington Free Press events calendars. The Burlington Free Press and the Rutland Herald will not post events information received via email. Use the links above to go to their events submission pages. On the Burlington Free Press submission page, click on “Promote Your Event” in the upper left-hand corner. Fill out the short form and click on “Submit.” You will then be given an option to submit a free calendar listing.

What’s Newsworthy

Here are some of the topics reporters look for:

We have great stories to tell—about faculty, students, academic initiatives, institutional innovations, environmental leadership, major events and plenty more. Many have the potential to be featured in the media; the key is to identify which stories are most newsworthy—and when.

Some things to consider when determining the “news value” of an idea:

  • Have you seen similar stories on the topic in the past?
  • Bear in mind the “So What?” factor: Who is the audience? Why should they care?
  • Is there a particular reporter who covers this topic regularly?
  • Does your idea have broad appeal, or is it more suited to a smaller, more focused audience?
  • Do you have facts and statistics to support your idea? Are they simple to state (and understand)?

Interview Tips

When the media are looking for a comment regarding a news story they are working on, they tend to call our office first and then we connect them with you. Sometimes, though, they will contact you directly.

Typically, you will spend up to 15 minutes with an interviewer and perhaps only one quote (or none) will make it into the story. Don’t get discouraged. If you are helpful and articulate, they will call again.

Here are some tips to consider when and if the media call. You can apply them as they make sense for your situation.

  • Be sure to ask how the interview will be used—online, in print, etc.
  • If you are comfortable with the topic and feel prepared to answer the questions, go ahead and do the interview.
  • If you think some preparation would be helpful, tell the reporter you need a few moments and that you will call back.  (BUT don’t wait too long; they are deadline driven.)
  • Feel free to ask for sample questions so you can begin to formulate some answers.
  • Feel free to ask who else is being interviewed, to give you some context.
  • Avoid saying “No comment” since it can imply you are hiding something. You can always ask to “get back to you on that.”
  • Don’t speculate! You know you are heading that way if your sentence begins anything like “If…” or “I suppose.” It’s not uncommon for reporters to ask these kinds of questions, and it’s always okay for you to say, “I can’t speculate on that.”
  • There’s no such thing as “off the record.” It may sound good on TV, but if it leaves your lips during, before or after an interview—i.e., in front of the reporter at any time—it’s definitely usable in the story.
  • Keep the interview on track. Feel free to restate your comments so as not to stray.
  • Don’t be afraid to pause and take your time.
  • Be sure to ask the reporter’s name, affiliation, and phone number, in case you want to clarify something later.
  • If a reporter interviews you on camera, choose a place that feels comfortable and neutral. Take a look around and ask yourself what the reporter will see.
  • Zoom Interviews:
    • Make sure your real or electronic background is appropriate for a Zoom interview.
    • Wear clothing that is professional. Avoid busy patterns.
    • Check your lighting to make sure you and your background are not too dark.
    • Confirm that your wifi connection is strong.
  • Alert Sarah Ray (ray@middlebury.edu or 443-5794) before (if possible) and after the interview takes place so she can do the necessary follow-up.

Tips for Writing an Op-Ed

The rules are fairly universal, and the more in line you are with the basic requirements, the more likely you are to get some attention for your piece. Keep in mind that editors at major newspapers are choosing from hundreds of submissions each day, so don’t be discouraged if you need to make multiple attempts.

  • Keep it current.  Be sure your topic is relevant to current news.
  • Be straightforward.  Don’t be subtle—get to your point.
  • Keep it short.  600–750 words is the limit; use short sentences and paragraphs.
  • Make your point in the first paragraph.
  • Advocate your view.  Don’t feel the need to summarize other views.
  • Provide answers.  Consider the questions readers will have—and answer them.
  • Offer anecdotes.  Personal stories help make your point.
  • Present solutions.  Always close with recommendations for solutions.
  • Get it done while the news is fresh.  Complete your piece in
    one or two days.
  • You know best.  Use your area of expertise to comment on current news.
  • Different is good.  Humor, unexpected perspectives and quirky approaches can be refreshing.