Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

U-M, other leading research universities launch Futurity

A group of leading research universities has launched Futurity (www.futurity.org), an online research channel covering the latest discoveries in science, engineering, the environment, health and more. U-M is one of 35 partners supporting the project.

Bill Murphy, one of Futurity’s cofounders and vice president for communications at the University of Rochester, says universities are affected by the challenges facing newspapers today. News holes are shrinking, he says, and coverage of research-related stories has been hit particularly hard.

“In light of this shifting news landscape, universities are looking for ways to share important breakthroughs with the public. Futurity gives our partners an opportunity to communicate in a new and direct way — and to remind the public why research matters,” he says.

Futurity co-founder Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations at Duke University, says the site serves another vital role. It allows the public to see how federal, state, and private funds are being put to use by universities to address critical challenges.

“It’s not often you see high-powered universities working together in such a collaborative way,” Schoenfeld says. “That fact alone indicates the project’s significance. Universities are the world’s laboratories. They host the brightest minds working to answer some of today’s most urgent questions.”

Since launching a beta version in March, Futurity has continued to add membership and readership.

Lisa Lapin, assistant vice president for communications at Stanford University, says Futurity is looking for new ways to extend the site’s reach.

“We’re active on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. We’re also in partnership talks with major Internet news providers. Today’s online environment is perfectly suited for this type of direct communication. There’s something very authentic about universities working together to share knowledge,” she says.

Lapin says the site is designed to encourage interaction. Stories include links to published reports and supplemental materials that allow readers to explore topics in more detail. The site is available in a mobile friendly version, and visitors can comment on stories and sign up for a daily e-mail update.

U-M, like all of the current partner universities, is a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU), a nonprofit organization of leading public and private research universities. Lapin says Futurity may revisit membership criteria down the road but needs to keep the numbers manageable while it fine-tunes the approach.

At U-M, submissions to futurity.org are handled through the News Service.