October 8, 2014

Your newsroom surely has been through the drill: an editor reaches out to some folks with an idea for a story. The cc line grows and grows as “stakeholders” chime in. By the end of the thread (or the day), you have a treatise on proposed subject.

But no story.

I thought of all those unpublished pearls today as we ran this story yesterday and promptly saw it soar to the top of our “most popular” list. As the ideas editor at Quartz, the 2-year-old global economy site of the Atlantic Media Co., it didn’t surprise me that we were pulling back the curtain and letting readers into our process and thinking. But as a reader (age 38, if you must know), the message of the transcript — that millennials are very public about their spending habits — did surprise and inform.

Screengrab of article from Quartz' site.

Screengrab of article from Quartz’ site.

I wondered what would happen to a chat like ours in a legacy newsroom. Would it have been given to a personal finance reporter as an assignment about “kids these days?” Would it have yielded a feature on the service Venmo? Or would it have — as so many of those great ideas that get ruminated and marinated over email or chat — stayed in our inboxes to die?

You might say that your newsroom doesn’t have the ability or desire to offer such transparency into the sausage-making of ideas. That the white space on your printed page only has room for 700 linear words.

The popularity of this post begs a reconsideration of that thinking. What we offered here was insight and authenticity, a “trend” story that doesn’t talk up or down to readers, but lets them truly feel a part of the conversation.

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S. Mitra Kalita is the vice president for programming at CNN Digital. She previously worked at the L.A. Times as managing editor, at Quartz as…
S. Mitra Kalita

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