The primary interface between academia and the media is the university press office. Press relations officers – often former journalists – are tasked with repackaging academic research into bite-sized chunks that can be fed whole to hungry reporters. Their goal is both to disseminate knowledge and to increase the university’s profile among the public and, most importantly, funders and potential students.

Press officers are adept at attracting the attention of editors with catchy releases, tapping into news agendas to ensure that a piece of research makes the leap from dusty journal to national newsprint. Where they are less effective, however, is in producing a hyperbole-free precis of academic work. If you’re after a distilled version of a piece of research – its key findings and methodology, rather than its most headline-grabbing aspect – university press officers often have little to offer. As a result, the bulk of academic research goes unreported anywhere that the public could realistically stumble across it.

So what could be done to rectify the situation? One option is to create a platform, most likely a website, that is staffed by experienced journalists but dedicated solely to publishing academic work. This approach is currently being pioneered in Australia, where The Conversation site, funded by universities, government and the private sector, was set up in the spring. On The Conversation, a team of about 20 journalists – led by Andrew Jaspan, former editor of The Observer – curate, commission and edit research, analysis and opinion from academics on everything from current affairs to the environment.

and what about this bit…

Although the cost of creating such a forum – even if it is hosted only on the web – may not be insignificant, the benefits are potentially enormous, as the success of a small blog set up last year by the University of Nottingham’s politics department attests. Written by staff and postgraduate students, the Election 2010 blog, which ran for five months, was estimated to have generated coverage for the university worth more than £4 million.

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