Ken Doctor writes for Neiman Journalism Lab about the business news site Quartz and why it has been so successful so early.
Doctor writes, “Delaney got to pick his staff. Stop there: As I talk with news-change people in both legacy and startup operations, that ability to pick a staff is huge. It connects with the overused word ‘culture’: In hiring, editors like Delaney not only get a chance to find the talents, digital sensibilities, and storytelling chops they want — they get to build their culture through hires. Any newsroom, new or old, has its issues, but a new, well chosen, well paid one can spend so much more time on the work and so much less time on the ‘change.’ For legacy companies, a key question is how to emulate that kind of environment, ASAP. Take a tour of Quartz’ journalists and you can see a wide-range of skills, humor — and potential. Those qualities show, subtly, in Quartz’ stories.
“The ‘obsessions,’ of course, are just a foundation. It’s the voice of Quartz — serious, pointed, and yet casual — that gives it a personality. Delaney credits global news editor Gideon Lichfield, who came to Quartz after 16 years at The Economist, with establishing that style. ‘It’s hard to express,’ says Delaney, ‘but it’s conversational, global, digital, and smart. Treat readers’ time well. Above all, don’t talk down to the readers. And don’t take yourself too seriously.’ The effort, that serious casual, borrows much from what we’ve all learned in last 20 years on the news web. Often, it works quite well; less often, you can find yourself midway through a story and wondering why you’re still reading. Throughout, you get the sense that these are journalists grappling for answers on big issues and little, much as their readers are.
“Quartz, at its best, zags when the competition zigs. Whether it’s the coverage of the next Netflix (“The track-changes version of Netflix’s vision for the future of TV”), contrarian advice (“Forget about learning to code — to get rich in tech, become an accountant”), or real estate comparisons (“How many houses can you buy elsewhere for the price of one in London?”) — chartified, of course — readers are unlikely to think they’ve seen Quartz’s take on current stories in other places.
“We can see Quartz as part of that larger movement toward explainer journalism. What does Delaney think about the explainer wave? As The Wall Street Journal veteran he is (having left as WSJ.com managing editor to start Quartz), he takes a longer view than most: ‘News organizations — including Quartz — have been explaining what the news means for awhile.'”
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