During the average year on The Conversation we routinely work with thousands of authors. One of the unique selling points that makes our operation such a valuable resource in this era of polarisation and fake news is that we can call upon the deep knowledge of so many academic authors.
But, as anyone who follows world news will know, 2022 was not “the average year”. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has precipitated the most dangerous crisis to engulf Europe – arguably the world – since the second world war. It is a story with a wide compass, from regional and global security, food and energy supplies to military strategy and all points in between.
Over ten years at The Conversation I’ve been lucky to work with very many terrific authors across a huge range of areas (and before that on the world news desks of two national newspapers, liaising with foreign correspondents). But when considering who to nominate for this year’s Sir Paul Curran award for academic journalism, two authors stood out for me: Stefan Wolff at the University of Birmingham and his writing partner Tetyana Malyarenko of Odesa University.
Stefan has been involved with The Conversation since the very earliest days after our launch in May 2013, drawing on his expertise in international security to provide a steady stream of excellent analysis of a wide range of issues from the Arab Spring uprisings and their aftermath to this prescient piece about the descent of Yemen into violence.
When the euromaidan protests of late 2013 developed into a full-scale uprising in Ukraine, Stefan brought in Tetyana Malyarenko as a Ukraine-based writing partner. Well before most of us had realised the danger of this developing crisis, they pointed to Crimea as a likely flashpoint and saw how the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, was pulling the strings from the Kremlin.
This, they wrote, would have major implications for Russia’s relations with the west. And so it has proved.
Ukraine invasion 2022
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its aftermath has been a demanding story, particularly when set against myriad other global issues (the west’s deteriorating relations with China and the threat to Taiwan, the coup and ensuing violence in Myanmar, protests and violence in Iran – the list goes on).
From February 24, when Putin sent his troops across the border, we began to publish a weekly (now fortnightly) newsletter: the Ukraine recap. It was a hungry beast that required at least half a dozen stories on all aspects of the war. Inevitably as the editor responsible for assembling this newsletter, I needed to be able to turn to trusted authors I could rely on to respond quickly and with quality work.
Stefan has been at the forefront of these (there are, needless to say, a host of other great academic authors whose expertise I’ve relied on over the past 15 months, for which thanks to you all). But week in week out Stefan has either contacted me to propose a fresh angle or has responded to my request for a story, often producing copy within 24 hours. I don’t remember a single instance where he has knocked me back – occasionally he’s said: “Yes, but how about this?” and invariably his suggestion has been the better one. Tetyana, meanwhile – in the midst of a conflict which has threatened her home town of Odesa – has worked to provide added depth and nuance. She has been able to judge the temperature of the conflict first hand.
There’s a thing in journalism we call a “herogram” – when your boss calls you up to thank you for outstanding work. Our version of this is the Sir Paul Curran Award, given annually to the author or authors whose work has been most outstanding in a crowded field of excellence.
When I proposed to our editorial board that Stefan and Tetyana deserved the award for 2022, I was pretty sure there was nobody whose contribution merited it more. My confidence was not misplaced.
So this is my chance, on behalf of The Conversation as we celebrate ten years of great journalistic collaboration with academia – and on behalf of all the readers whose knowledge has been enhanced by their work – to send a herogram to Stefan Wolff and Tetyana Malyarenko. And richly deserved it is too.
The award shortlist:
Abidemi Otaiku, University of Birmingham, for his work for his articles on bad dreams as predictors of dementia, Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative disorders; and Jonquil Lowe, The Open University, for her reliable explainers on finance, savings and pensions.
Louise Gentle, Nottingham Trent University; Devyani Prabhat, University of Bristol; Michael Head, University of Southampton.