The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - PATRICK FREYNE -

Brew­ing up a Brain­storm with Jim Car­roll

would do so in a read­able, ac­ces­si­ble, straight­for­ward way that the mil­lions of peo­ple who visit would be happy to read.

Seven Ir­ish uni­ver­si­ties and third-level in­sti­tu­tions – Univer­sity Col­lege Cork, Univer­sity of Lim­er­ick, Dublin In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, Maynooth Univer­sity, Ul­ster Univer­sity, Dublin City Univer­sity and NUI Gal­way – stepped up to help fund the project. Their sup­port helps to pay the wages, contributo­rs’ fees (we pay for all di­rectly com­mis­sioned pieces) and the var­i­ous tech­ni­cal bits and bobs re­quired to get up and run­ning and to keep go­ing.


This is not spon­sored con­tent. It’s not aca­demics big­ging up their own in­sti­tu­tions. Which ar­ti­cles we choose to pub­lish is our de­ci­sion alone. Also, we wel­come and have pub­lished pieces by aca­demics who are not from the seven found­ing in­sti­tu­tions.

In­stead, Brain­storm op­er­ates just like any other on­line pub­li­ca­tion. Ei­ther I ap­proach an aca­demic to write a piece based on their spe­cific area of ex­per­tise or they pitch a piece to me. We agree word counts and dead­lines (I hadn’t re­alised that aca­demics were as in­ven­tive as free­lance jour­nal­ists in com­ing up with ex­cuses for missed dead­lines). The pieces turn up and they’re subbed, de­signed and pub­lished. Copy comes in one end and ar­ti­cles come out the other.

Of course, there are some dif­fer­ences be­tween Brain­storm and other ti­tles in the on­line space. The main one is that this is a pub­lic service project and not a com­mer­cial en­tity. Rather than turn a profit, the aim is to high­light the work of those in the na­tion’s third-level sec­tor. We’re in the hugely for­tu­nate po­si­tion that the in­sti­tu­tions are foot­ing the bill for this ex­per­i­ment and, based on their ex­pe­ri­ence so far, are happy to con­tinue for the full ini­tial three-year pe­riod.

So what’s the ed­i­tor of Brain­storm look­ing for? The big­gest thing I’m af­ter is read­abil­ity, which ba­si­cally means no aca­demic-speak. Brain­storm is not an aca­demic jour­nal – and has no pre­ten­sions to be, de­spite the un­fea­si­bly huge prof­its made by the pub­lish­ers of such jour­nals. Pieces must be writ­ten in clear, un­der­stand­able, straight­for­ward English. What was hugely re­as­sur­ing to me was that about 80-85 per cent of the pieces we’ve re­ceived so far have met those cri­te­ria.

You can di­vide the ones we’ve pub­lished to date into sto­ries that have a news an­gle (such as re­cent pieces on Syria, Euro­vi­sion, GDPR and Iraq) and more quirky pieces that don’t nec­es­sar­ily hang on a time hook. Be it a long read by Richard Scriven on mod­ern pil­grim­ages, Ali­son Far­rell’s trib­ute to the art of live sports com­men­tary or Gil­lian O’Brien’s piece on how her grand­mother in­spired her fas­ci­na­tion with death and dark tourism, these pieces are rel­a­tively time­less.

What have fas­ci­nated me most are the science and tech sto­ries. As some­one who’s not from that back­ground, it’s hugely sat­is­fy­ing to see bril­liant re­searchers get on board with Brain­storm, leave their labs and com­mu­ni­cate what they’re do­ing in a clear and read­able man­ner. An ar­ti­cle on recre­at­ing the Earth from 90g of DNA, an ar­ti­cle on what’s go­ing on in­side a new­born baby’s head and a re­port on how close we are to find­ing life on other plan­ets are good ex­am­ples.

There’s now an abun­dance of meaty reads on the web­site on a ton of sub­jects, as well as a data­base of more than 800 aca­demics who are happy to write and com­ment on such top­ics. We know from the stats that Brain­storm has found an au­di­ence who are enjoying what they read. To give just one statis­tic, the av­er­age dwell time for a Brain­storm ar­ti­cle is cur­rently 5.54 min­utes.

For the aca­demics, Brain­storm has al­ready had a size­able im­pact. In ad­di­tion to their raised pro­file, I keep hear­ing sto­ries about meet­ings and projects that have fol­lowed Brain­storm pieces. It’s also telling to see Brain­storm story ideas and contributo­rs picked up by ra­dio shows and other me­dia (and not just in Mon­trose).

New voices

For me, one of the big­gest wins has been find­ing and de­vel­op­ing new voices. A reg­u­lar com­plaint about aca­demics in the me­dia is that it’s the usual hand­ful of me­dia-friendly voices who dom­i­nate pro­ceed­ings as if they’re the only names and num­bers in the con­tacts book. Com­ing from a mu­sic busi­ness back­ground, I kept bang­ing on about “be­ing an A&R man for academia” when I started this job. As any good tal­ent scout knows, find­ing new acts is only the start of things. Our aim is to de­velop them by con­tin­u­ing to high­light their work and in­sights, get­ting them to a stage where they’re the ones peo­ple are giv­ing out about over-ex­po­sure. The fact that many col­lege and univer­sity con­tacts say “I’ve never heard of him or her” when we use a new writer from their in­sti­tu­tion shows we’re on the right track.

The fu­ture for Brain­storm? We’ve re­cently wel­comed the Ir­ish Re­search Coun­cil as our first strate­gic part­ner and we’re plan­ning a num­ber of ways to work with and help the thou­sands of re­searchers they’ve funded. While the web­site will con­tinue to be the main com­po­nent of what we do, we plan to add events, pod­casts and videos. We’ve al­ready had a start on the live side of things with well-at­tended events in DCU and Maynooth Univer­sity and we’ll be at the Bloom fes­ti­val in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, over the June bank hol­i­day week­end.

Most of all, we hope to con­tinue show­cas­ing what aca­demics and re­searchers are do­ing be­hind their col­lege walls. We want to show how their work im­pacts on so­ci­ety and the con­tri­bu­tion they have to make to the na­tional dis­course. And hope­fully, we’ll keep avoid­ing the tweed.

Jim Car­roll is the ed­i­tor of­storm

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.