The Conversation's ambitious editor-in-chief, Andrew Jaspan, is out to achieve what Barnsey, Farnsey and Kylie never could: crack the US market wide open. Following The Conversation's expansion into the UK last month, Jaspan is preparing to launch versions of the popular site -- which publishes analysis from academics -- in the US and India. According to a detailed prospectus obtained by Crikey, the US site is expected to attract 1 million unique readers a month. Jaspan has assembled a star-studded 17-member US advisory board -- including high-profile journalism academic Jay Rosen and scholars from Harvard, Yale and Columbia -- with former Frontline and Boston Globe reporter Joseph Rosenbloom to serve as chairman. The push is being supported by the Association of American Universities and philanthropic outfit the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

"I'm not sure whether the US will be next or India, but both are being worked on," Jaspan, former editor-in-chief of The Age, told Crikey this morning. Jaspan describes the expansion as a "work in progress" and says it would be optimistic to expect either the US or Indian sites to launch before the end of this year. "These are big and complex countries, and we've got to get it right," he said. "Our focus for now is making sure the UK site works well, and the federal election." Jaspan was similarly coy when Crikey revealed in February the site would expand to the UK. The American push helps explain why The Conversation recently redirected its homepage from theconversation.edu.au to theconversation.com. According to the September 2012 prospectus, The Conversation US plans to raise $8.3 million to cover the site's expenditure over the first three years. "Partner" universities will be asked to kick in $100,000 per annum while "member" unis will contribute $50,000 a year. The operation, likely to be based in Boston, is expected to have around 20 staff and total costs of around $2.7 million a year. Small deficits are forecast for the first two years, with the site breaking into the black by year three. Jaspan and co. are trying to lure in US donors with the following spiel:
"The US has a crowded, complex and sophisticated media marketplace, yet no resource is offering the same reader experience as The Conversation. A few media outlets, such as the Atlantic and ProPublica, provide intelligent commentary on topical issues. But content is generally written by journalists, who lack the expertise of academics. The Conversation is free from an ‘editorial line’, enabling it to be a trusted source for readers across the political spectrum."
The site has proven popular with Australian academics because it allows them to connect to a broader audience beyond the readers of specialist journals. Unlike in traditional media outlets, they have the final sign-off on all content, including the article headline and any images. The federal government gave the Australian operation a boost in the May budget by handing the site tax deductability status and $2 million in taxpayer funding over the next four years. The Conversation will go head to head with PolitiFact Australia and the ABC's fact checking unit during the federal election campaign by roping in academic experts to truth-test the claims of political candidates.