Inside the Quartz newsroom: creating a business publication for the new generation

Gideon Lichfield shared with us the techniques Quartz uses to cover major events and why media companies need growth editors.

Anna Savina

writer

Lia Bekyan

photographer

Accent is launching a series of blogs that will  explore how online publications around the world work. Every week you will find stories about people, tools and ideas that are driving online journalism. Our first story is devoted to Gideon Lichfield, senior editor at Quartz, who told us about the inner workings of the website’s editorial staff.

Quartz is a global business news brand launched in 2012 and owned by Atlantic Media. Quartz’s goal is to help readers understand and navigate the post-crisis economy. Editors don’t try to cover all aspects of the economy; they focus on so-called “obsessions”—“critical topics and intricate issues.”

The website distributes content via a mobile app emulating chat interface, direct e-mails to different regions of the world, blogs on Tumblr and Medium, etc. Besides their New York headquarters, Quartz has offices in India and Africa, and a network of reporters all over the globe. Recently, Quartz announced that it became profitable.

City: New York

Audience:
20 million unique users per month

Team: more than 200 people (including international correspondents)

Tools: Slack, Google Docs, Atlas, Chartbeat, Omniture,
and Parse.ly

The
Team

Our editorial board is divided into teams. Each editor works with about 3-7 reporters. Reporters write both short texts that are tied to the daily news and longer, special articles.

There are no traditional sections in Quartz, and the teams are not specialized on particular topics. The only exception is the Technology category. We have a lot of materials in this category, therefore we appointed one editor in charge.

Meanwhile, the political section has no special editors, and is covered by several reporters who communicate in a separate channel on Slack. Besides, to avoid conflicts there is a special chat where they discuss pitches.

We do not appoint editors in charge of obsessions. There are topics of interest, and the reporters who are writing on these topics, which does not mean that they cannot select other topics.

Quartz doesn’t have sections and each reporter covers several subjects

Everyone works on several topics at the same time, e.g. we have a reporter who writes on energy and the oil industry and pays attention to solar batteries and electric vehicles. The team also comprises other people writing on solar batteries and electric vehicles in a technology context.

The main drawback of the system is the risk of getting multiple texts on the same topic. We do this intentionally, since two people may have opposing views on the same issue and offer different approaches. In any case, it is clear that Quartz should not be exhaustive. We are not trying to write on every single topic, but rather to cover the most interesting ones.

Another problem is that unlike traditional media, where reporters focus on one topic, our reporters have no such  limitation, which makes it difficult to become real experts. Our reporters have a broader perspective, but sometimes their knowledge can be less profound than that of other journalists.

Planning

Frankly speaking, we do not implement any special planning methods. Editors talk to their correspondents every morning and choose the best ideas. We do not use Trello, Basecamp, or similar tools, restricting ourselves to Slack.

To cover big events, we appoint one editor in charge and create a table in Google Docs in order to decide which stories we do and when we published them. Thus, during the presidential election in the USA, the editor cooperated with several reporters who wrote news and longreads, besides numerous other reporters covering the presidential election. They all used the Slack channel to discuss what they were working on and to avoid overlapping stories.

Another example was the Olympic Games. Similarly to the elections, we appointed one editor in charge; however, there were no special reporters covering the event. Our in-house reporters covered different aspects of the Olympics and entered all the ideas into a single table. Similar work was done for Brexit, however we had two reporters in London who covered that topic full time.

Quartz reporters don’t try to cover everything and focus on “obsessions”


Quartz as API: readers can access content on different platforms


The team develops its own tools to empower journalists and editors


Attracting
an Audience

During the preparatory stage, we always  discuss how to draw reader’s attention to the selected topic. An interesting topic is key for both the reporters and readers. Additionally, we pay particular attention when it comes to choosing the proper title. It usually takes a lot of time to come up with a good title. This is exactly when the Growth Team members come in. They advise on how make the article more interesting to the maximum number of people.

The Growth Team consists of seven people. Two are in charge of SMM, while the rest of the team  works with reporters. They help get into the reader’s mind, and really understand what is important to them and how they consume information. Let’s say a reporter wants to cover a scientific study on education. In this case, the Growth Team would probably ask to  analyze the way scientific findings can be useful to parents, teachers, or another  large group of readers.

We also have an  editor in charge of newsletter and our mobile app. This editor has a team spread around the world. There are reporters in the USA, Asia and Europe. They use guides to create e-mails, and the editor is responsible for suggesting things to edit or add  on the daily basis.  This is not a very flexible format, therefore reporters understand and remember it pretty easily.

Transparency

In most cases, readers are not interested in knowing what reporters talk about. However, there are exceptions. One day we published excerpts from our correspondence in an editorial chat. The conversation was about the age, millennials, and social networks, we did not talk about Quartz at all, and we decided that it would be useful.

While moving to a new office, we were blogging about this process.

We wanted to   explore how the workspace affects the company culture. I believe this was useful both for us and our readers. Our new office has tons of  meeting spaces. It was important to us to provide more opportunities for discussion and collaboration. We’ve also added a creative space where everyone can create and build anything with their hands. All these spaces are part of our culture that is built on interaction and team-work.

Quartz writers work closely with growth editors to choose the right angle and reach more readers

Design
and Analytics

We have a team of nine designers and developers, who are responsible for the development of the website. We use a WordPress VIP theme. We don’t really like the word “redesign” so we prefer to make small changes and improvements on a regular basis. I guess you can say we had at least 4 big redesigns in the past 4 years.

The Quartz team created Atlas. This tool is used to work with charts to help us illustrate materials in-line with our brand. All our reporters have access to this tool. It is pretty easy to master. The users do not need to have a data-journalism or computer-graphics background.

← A chart created with Atlas

We also use other tools to create  animated branded graphics and overlay pictures with text, but we don’t use them that often.

To analyze the traffic to our website we use Chartbeat, Omniture, and Parse.ly.

Quartz as API

When we say that Quartz is API, we mean that Quartz is not a website, but rather an approach. We always remind our reporters that there are many platforms and ways to publish. In 3-5 years, most of our readers may decide to get information from other sources rather than at qz.com. The future cannot be predicted, and this API expression is a way to say that we need to consider various

platforms. Our site, Twitter, newsletter, and application audiences are pretty different. We need to be play by each channel’s rules.  We know who we are, what we are writing about, and who our audience is, however, we tailor our approach for each channel.