So you want to write for RTÉ Brainstorm….



Jim Carroll

Posted: 29 May, 2019

Jim Carroll is the editor of RTÉ Brainstorm.  RTÉ Brainstorm is a unique partnership between RTÉ, University College Cork, University of Limerick, NUI Galway, NUI Maynooth, DCU, TU Dublin, Ulster University, and the Irish Research Council. Combining opinion, analysis and features, and edited by RTÉ, this initiative aims to provide readers with informed views and perspectives on a vast range of topics. 

We had absolutely no idea what would happen when we launched the Brainstorm website in September 2017. The basic premise was good – academics and researchers writing about stuff from their area of expertise – but it was a bit of a pig in a poke because no-one had done something like this with a national public service broadcaster before. Seven universities around the country had taken a leap of faith to fund the concept so we pressed “start” and away we went.

Today, it’s a much different matter – please note I use the royal “we” because it was and is an one-person operation – and Brainstorm is now a proven media entity

We have published over 1,100 articles to date and add to that number with another dozen or more pieces every week. We’ve also produced a radio show, dozens of videos, podcasts and events. There’s a database of over 1,300 academics and researchers who’re keen to work with us. It’s an one-stop shop for those who want to get their ideas to the general public, the millions of people who visit rte.ie every month.

But the main reason why Brainstorm is a big ol’ success is because academics and researchers have bought into it. They saw their peers writing for us and they saw what it meant for them and their career. They’ve seen Brainstorm contributers appearing on radio and TV shows, getting commercial wins, gaining a real impact for their work. As a result, they wanted in. Brainstorm would be just a random page on the RTÉ website if it wasn’t for that buy-in.

We’re always looking for new writers and this is where you come in. If you want to write for us, the process is really simple. Go to the website and fill in the ‘Contribute to Brainstorm’ form at the top of the page. You’ll get an email from me shortly welcoming you to Brainstorm and inviting you to send in any ideas you may have.

This is what we call the pitch. Send me a short email – couple of lines will do the trick – outlining what the story idea is and why I should be interested. I’ll get back to you and we’ll take it from there. It really is as simple as that.

Some Brainstorm facts: the vast majority of Brainstorm pieces are 800 to 850 words in length. All pieces are written in this amazing language called plain English – Brainstorm is not an academic journal so don’t write in academese. We want simple, straight-forward, direct language, the language you use when you order a coffee or buy your fruit in the morning. You do not use words like “intervention” with the barista, do you?

We know what stories work – and, more importantly, what do not work. Stories like “we’re having a conference!” or “we won an award!” do not work because no-one is interested beyond your campus. But stories about your research which says what it will do for the reader may get attention. Having a strong opinion or an interesting angle on your area of expertise will always get attention, though we’ve no interest in the fact that some new course or some celebrity who has visited the campus.

One useful thing to do is to look at the website and see what your peers have already done for us. Look at the stories we’ve run by them, look at the approach they have taken, look at the language they have used, look at the hooks they have found to bring in the reader. Yes, we do a certain amount of finessing when it comes to editing, packaging and presenting your story, but we need that hook in the first place.

Another good thing to do is to think of the prospective reader. It is not your peers or some policy maker: it is your aunt Tess, your cousin Joey, your neighbour Denis. They’re ordinary punters who are willing to give your story some of their valuable time so they can learn something new, satisfy a curiosity and have something to talk about. They’re open and inquisitive and willing to give something new a chance but they want something which is direct, concise, interesting, engaging, clear and readable. They do not want or need an intervention!

If you like the sound of this and reckon you might have something for us, please do get in touch. You’ll find us at rte.ie/brainstorm and we’re @RTEBrainstorm on Twitter.