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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.