The Conversation is a not-for-profit news organization that commissions academic authors to publish accessible analysis on trending topics. The site has a unique publishing model, as it relies exclusively on academic authors and the site’s editors to develop timely, incisive journalism. Given the site’s rapid expansion, this article examines The Conversation’s publishing output to assess its reliability, opinionatedness, political bias, and ownership.

How Factual Is The Conversation?

The Factual’s news rating algorithm analyzes more than 10,000 articles a day along four metrics: author expertise, publication history, writing tone, and cited sources and quotes. (See our How It Works page to learn more.) For this study, we analyzed 1,000 articles each from 245 major news sources.

The Conversation scored an average Factual Grade of 76.4%. This is well above the 61.9% average for all 245 news sources that we analyzed. This places The Conversation in the 98th percentile of our dataset and as the fifth-highest scoring site.

These high scores can be attributed in particular to high-quality evidence in most of the site’s articles. The Conversation’s authors are, as a rule, academics and tend to incorporate comprehensive, highly factual sources in their writing.

Like any news source, scores from The Conversation varied widely based on factors like author expertise and cited evidence. For example, some scored above 90%, while others scored below 60%.

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How Opinionated Is The Conversation?

The Factual measures how opinionated an article is using a sophisticated natural language processing algorithm, producing a score we call the Writing Tone. For this metric, the algorithm looks for signs of subjective commentary (e.g., first person pronouns, unnecessary adverbs), as well as the emotional nature of selected words, and sees how prevalent they are for a given length of text. Text which is less opinionated gets higher ratings, with “0” being the most opinionated and “1” being the most neutral.

The Conversation had an average Writing Tone score of 0.50, placing it in the 34th percentile in our dataset. This suggests that articles from the site are often highly opinionated in their writing tone. This can partially be explained by the site’s approach, which focuses on academics making persuasive arguments on timely topics, not simply presenting the news.

What Is The Conversation’s Political Bias? 

The Factual classifies news sites by political bias as either Left, Moderate Left, Center, Moderate Right, or Right. This classification comes from third-party assessments from media bias organizations such as AllSides and Media Bias/Fact Check (MBFC). Based on this data, The Factual assigns a “Center” bias. 

MBFC categorizes The Conversation as “Least Biased,” it’s centrist bias classification. They note that the site covers topics on both the center-right and center-left. The Conversation also gets full credit for highly factual reporting, including for high-quality sourcing and a clean fact-check record. It is also “one of only two worldwide [fact-checkers] accredited by the International Fact-Checking Network, an alliance of fact-checkers hosted at the Poynter Institute.”

AllSides classified The Conversation as “Lean Left,” but they do not give an explanation for this classification.

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Who Owns The Conversation? 

The Conversation was founded in Australia in 2010 by Andrew Jaspan and Jack Rejtman with a $10 million investment from four Australian universities and the Australian government. Since then, the independent, not-for-profit media outlet has opened up editions in the UK, U.S., Africa, France, Canada, Indonesia, and Spain. The site's funding comes from university partnerships, grants, corporate partners, and reader donations.

Why Does It Matter?

News articles always have some bias because all authors have some frame of reference within which they describe a story. Political bias ratings are helpful in understanding this framing. However, it can be more beneficial to know how factual an article is based on quantifiable metrics that can be seen across the media ecosystem, such as cited evidence, author expertise, and writing tone. This is what The Factual ascertains. 

Reading several, highly rated articles from across the political spectrum helps counter the bias of any news source or story. To have the day’s most factual news stories delivered to your inbox every morning, subscribe to our daily newsletter.

Published by Phillip Meylan

Phillip is a writer, researcher, and editor. At The Factual, he leads research efforts that utilize the company's ever growing data on the media ecosystem. He is also a contributor to FP Analytics, Foreign Policy's research and advisory division, and an adjunct fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.