Quartz editor-in-chief talks shift in news consumption, news in digital age

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Kevin Delaney, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Quartz, speaks to SMU students at the William O'Neil Lecture in Business Journalism. Photo credit: Christina Cox

In the William O’Neil Lecture in Business Journalism Tuesday, Kevin Delaney, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Quartz, discussed the fundamental shift in how readers receive their news and how to adapt online content for the digital age.

Delaney founded Quartz in 2012 under parent company Atlantic Media. The foundational goal of the business news source is to reach readers globally with intelligent journalism on their mobile devices.

“At the core of our business opportunity was really good design, really good engineering and actually very high-quality content,” Delaney said.

Through surveys, Delaney and his team found that 53 percent of people get their business news from their phones, reflecting a national trend in a change in news consumption.

“There is a fundamental shift in how readers are getting their news and that should reflect how journalism is pursued,” he said. “In many ways it’s more challenging since it’s not decades old.”

With this information Quartz chose to pursue a digital-first news site focused on reaching readers through social media and creating content specifically made for the Web. According to Delaney, now about 70 percent of the site’s traffic comes through social networks.

“We’re in the middle of what I would argue is a fundamental change in how readers are accessing the news,” he said. “It starts with the primary expectation for anything will come through a social network.”

This is how the “Quartz Curve” model was born. Delaney noticed that engagement was high when articles were short, focused and shareable, but also when they were ambitious, in-depth and narrative. He said the 800-word articles, the articles in the middle of the Quartz Curve, are not successful.

“My belief is that good, high-quality journalistic stories can thrive,” Delaney said. “I have a lot of doubts that the 800-word article will survive.”

Quartz focuses on stories that are less than 400 words or long-form features that are thousands of words. The news source also found high engagement with stories about “Things,” like a chart, trend or statistic, and “Obsessions,” like a phenomena about the world.

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Quartz's new app uses a texting format that allows readers to chose what news to learn more about and receive. Photo credit: Christina Cox

The Quartz newsroom is broken down differently than the traditional newsroom with its five categories: News, Ideas, Things, Video and Growth.

“These teams are all sitting in same newsroom and working together in a very integrated way,” he said.

Delaney believes the best way to reach the digital audience is through different forms of engagement like videos, charts, email newsletters, podcasts, its mobile app and QZ.com.

“Our goal is to be where readers and viewers are,” he said. “We want to be on all of these different platforms”

Delaney said he hopes Quartz will become the business news organization of the current century.

“We want to build our readership and do really good journalism that continues to win prizes,” he said. “We want to be a place that is pushing the industry forward in terms of trying things and creating things.”

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