Stories For People, Not Algorithms: Announcing The Science Syndication Network

If you work in journalism and media, you’ll know that getting people to find and read your stories has never been more complex. We live in an era of fast-changing audience behaviours, platforms and economic models. If you’re not a publisher that is large enough to have direct relationship with millions of people, or to broker deals with the huge tech companies that own audiences’ attention, you have to spend a huge amount of time and money getting people to notice your stories.

This is the position that many small and medium sized publishers find themselves in, especially publishers working on public-impact stories. According to a 2015 CIMA report, governments and foundations spend around $450m on media development to communicate the impact of the $147bn aid investments they make every year. This is a huge investment, but the majority of this money is to fund the development and creation of media, not distribution.

This feels like a missed opportunity — there are thousands of public impact stories being produced every year that aren’t getting the audience or impact they deserve, for no reason other than distribution is hard. The competition for audience attention has never been more intense, and the gatekeepers never more complex. Publishers have had to learn how to optimise stories for algorithms, not people. If you want to create stories that make an impact on people’s lives and attitudes, it’s hard to know what platforms to focus on, or how much time and money to spend on building audiences.

This is why we’re launching the Science Syndication Network. With the support of the Gates Foundation, we’re working with five public-impact publications to focus specifically on the problem of distribution and syndication. Between us, we have a global reach in the millions, and over the next 2 years, we’re running four six-month long experiments to improve the reach and impact of our stories, particularly stories on global health security.

The experiments will include building relationships with editors and syndication leads at major publications, translating and distributing articles for audiences in China, Brazil and across the globe, syndicating serialised content as long form articles and podcasts, and synchronising commissioning to create more impact across all our publications.

Photo by Dave Imms, from  Mosaic Science ’s article ‘   How To Fall To Your Death & Live To Tell The Tale   ’.

Photo by Dave Imms, from Mosaic Science’s article ‘How To Fall To Your Death & Live To Tell The Tale’.

We’ve structured the project as a series of 6 month experiments because we know that the landscape of public impact journalism will continue to change. At our launch workshop in September, we heard from Nic Newman, creator of the Reuters Institute’s annual journalism predictions report. Every year this report shows how quickly audience behaviours and platforms can change. By the end of this pilot phase in 2019, the problems at the heart of our experiments will be very different from the ones we’re looking at today.

One of the biggest benefits of the network is that it gives us the time and resources to get together regularly to look at the issues around syndication and distribution together, learn from each other’s experiments, and bring in insight from experts from around the world. As we’re all small publications and newsrooms, working together amplifies our potential impact and reach in ways that we just couldn’t do alone.

The initial pilot phase of the Science Syndication Project is a collaboration between five partners, who between them have a monthly reach of over 5 million, publishing in English, Spanish, Arabic and French, across Europe, the US and South America. The partners are:

Future Earth Media Lab/International Council For Science — publishers of Anthropocene Magazine and Re:Think.

How We Get To Next — an online publication exploring the intersections between science, technology and culture, and how those things are changing the future.

Materia, the science and technology department at El Pais in Spain.

Mosaic Science, publishing compelling stories that explore the science of life, based out of the Wellcome Trust in the UK.

SciDevNet, a global publication looking at science and technology in the development sector.

We’ll be publishing regular stories on this site sharing research, insights and outcomes from the experiments. If you want to keep in touch with the project, you can subscribe to our newsletter.

We also want to grow the network. So if you’re a global publication interested in syndicating stories, a publication covering science/development/global health looking for help on distribution and syndication, or a foundation looking to increase the impact of your media work, we’d love to hear from you!