September 17, 2012

Agence France-Presse | The Economist | Nieman Lab | Ad Week | News ThingQuartz Tumblr
Atlantic Media is about to launch its much-buzzed-about global business news product called Quartz, as soon as this week or next.

It’s another digital news startup that gets a lot of pre-launch attention for its intention to do things differently — which makes it not only interesting but also a sort of lab experiment whose successes or failures will bear lessons for other news organizations.

Quartz is staffing up with “veterans from top media organizations around the world,” including Editor-in-Chief Kevin Delaney, Senior Editor Zach Seward from The Wall Street Journal and Global News Editor Gideon Lichfield from The Economist. Others come from backgrounds at Gawker, Huffington Post, Foreign Policy, GOOD magazine and France 24. (We wrote earlier about Atlantic Media’s hiring philosophy.)

Altogether Quartz will have a team of about 25 working mostly from the main office in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood (also home to Gawker). It will have some reporters in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, and plans to open offices in Europe and Asia.

Here are a handful of things worth knowing and watching as Quartz launches.

1. Tablet-first focus

Quartz is a digital-only publication that will be “mobile-first and tablet-focused with a responsive design that is optimized to fit any device.”

Delaney explained the mobile/tablet-first approach in an interview with The Economist:

There are three main reasons why we’re viewing mobile and tablet as primary platforms. One, the data is very clear that the user base for the devices is large and growing quickly. This is especially true when you look across the world, and we have visions to build real global leadership.

Secondly, we’re hoping to build a service and news product for global business leaders, and one of the defining attributes of these global leaders is that they are incredibly mobile. So the decision to design a news site for mobile as the primary platform really maps to usage patterns.

Lastly, there are tremendous opportunities for innovation on mobile and tablet platforms. In terms of the user interface, we’re really at the beginning of the road for user interfaces for news consumption. We think there are opportunities to advance on that to some degree.

2. Elite audience

Anyone can read Quartz but the content will be aimed at an audience of “global business leaders — digitally savvy, post-national executives who seek information that will help them better navigate the new global economy.”

3. No more ‘beats’

Lichfield explains on his blog that Quartz will say “goodbye to the beat” as the organizational structure for staff and content:

Instead of fixed beats, we structure our newsroom around an ever-evolving collection of phenomena—the patterns, trends and seismic shifts that are shaping the world our readers live in. “Financial markets” is a beat, but “the financial crisis” is a phenomenon. “The environment” is a beat, but “climate change” is a phenomenon. “Energy” is a beat, but “the global surge of energy abundance” is a phenomenon. “China” is a beat, but “Chinese investment in Africa” is a phenomenon. We call these phenomena our “obsessions”. These are the kinds of topics Quartz will put in its navigation bar, and as the world changes, so will they.

The execution of this “obsessions” approach will determine whether Quartz distinguishes itself from the bigger traditional competitors like The Wall Street Journal or Thomson Reuters. What it lacks in size, Quartz will try to make up for in flexibility and perceptiveness.

4. Free, with ads and sponsored content

It’s free, supported by advertisers. But don’t expect to find traditional banner ads, Ken Doctor says in a thorough examination of the Quartz business model:

In a twist we’ll see more of — another reason Quartz is worth watching — these advertisers are creating their own content for Quartz readers, through something called “Quartz Bulletin.” That’s an extension of the immersive and deep-content ads we’ve seen on business news tablet products. The buzzwords are “branded content,” as Atlantic Media president Justin Smith explained, as he differentiated Quartz’s approach: “We’re not the first to do sponsored content, but what’s interesting is the fact that we’re building it into the foundation.”

Launch sponsors include Boeing, Cadillac, Chevron and Credit Suisse. Each of the sponsors “will have full-page takeover ads on Quartz’s mobile, tablet and website,” Ad Week reports, “and will take part in launch events in cities like New York, London and Hong Kong.”

Doctor predicts Quartz will try premium subscription products similar to Politico Pro in 2013. “Politico — which innovated a new approach to heavily-covered political news — is an important model that Quartz is building on,” he writes. “Reader revenue, in some form, will be key in the long term.”

5. The name

A chunk of quartz on a desk in the Quartz office. (Via the Quartz Tumblr)

About that name:

Atlantic Media chose the Quartz name because it embodies the new brand’s essential character: global, disruptive, and digital. Quartz, the mineral, is found all over the world, and plays an important role in tectonic activity. Quartz, the word, is bookended by two of the rarest letters in the English language, Q and Z, an easy-to-remember contraction that will get readers to the site——fast.

Related: The Quartz style guide says go easy on the slang: “Stay away from curveballs, hardballs, inside baseballs, and ballparks; deep benches, end runs, slam-dunks, Hail Mary passes, and full-court presses; sucker and one-two punches, switch and pinch hitters, point men and wingmen…” (Quartz Tumblr)

Correction: This post wrongly stated that New York’s SoHo neighborhood is also home to BuzzFeed’s office. BuzzFeed was in SoHo from 2010 until December 2011, when it moved uptown to its current location in the Flatiron District.

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Jeff Sonderman ( is the Digital Media Fellow at The Poynter Institute. He focuses on innovations and strategies for mobile platforms and social media in…
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