Journalist Q&A: Zach Seward, Quartz

Zach Seward, senior editor, Quartz, discusses the media outlet's website redesigns, its approach to native advertising, and the title's latest addition, The Brief.

Journalist Q&A: Zach Seward, Quartz

Name: Zach Seward
Title: Senior editor
Outlet: Quartz
Preferred contact: @zseward

Since Quartz launched two years ago, it has been redesigned twice. What was the difference between each one?
The launch design focused on mobile phones and tablets, being cognizant of where most growth was happening and where readers were increasingly getting news.

In our first redesign, we tweaked things to double down on making our content shine above all else. Our strategy is to write smart stories that people want to share, so the most important thing we can do is make the pieces look as good as possible and stay out of the reader’s way.

In our second redesign in August, we made the mobile experience better and cleaner. We also added a homepage. Previously, we just dropped you into our top story. That worked because we wanted to focus on getting traffic to stories through social without being overly concerned about what a homepage would look like.

Homepages are not as popular as before. However, we thought we could give people a better experience when they came to us directly. We expect growth will continue to come from individual stories shared on social media, but it is still key to serve our loyal readers.

Your new homepage is a briefing on global business news, called The Brief, which complements your morning newsletter, the Daily Brief. Tell us more about that.
We are reading everything out there and trying to share the stuff you should be reading. It is a filter, and it provides context. We think of it as a memo from a trusted adviser or friend.

That influences the tone of it – it’s not necessarily chatty, but you are aware there is a human writing it. We continue to do original reporting and write Quartz stories in the same way, but The Brief is a little different. 

If you like Quartz’s view of – and approach to – the world, you will probably like it. We update The Brief throughout the day. There is always a reporter and an editor assigned to it to ensure it is up to date, but everyone contributes.

How does Quartz handle native advertising?
Our goal is that the advertising is as high quality as the editorial content. We want our readers to have a great experience as they navigate across the whole site.

With native advertising, it is not just some brand’s message, it’s written in a style we know our readers like and respond well to. It is labeled, but it is good and interesting. A separate team works on native and display ads, and they are as good about thinking what works on Quartz as the journalists in our newsroom. Their job is to learn from our content what is working and convey that to advertisers.

Can you explain the Things Team?
All members of the Things Team have the title reporter. Their backgrounds are in areas such as data, design, and programming. They do their own projects that require programming, need to be built in some way, or include heavy data analysis. They collaborate with other reporters in the newsroom on those projects. For example, a reporter may come across a great data set, but might need help figuring out what to do with it.

The Things Team also builds tools, such as Chartbuilder, which helps create fast, great visual charts in our style. It has been enormously beneficial for efficiency and also because we believe charts are a strong way to tell a story.

What kind of talent does Quartz look for?
We look for a mix of experience, worldliness, and nerdiness: People who have a sense of what works well on the Web as well as strong journalistic expertise. If we’re going to have a global perspective, we need a staff that reflects that. 

We expect everyone to be comfortable with data and take an analytical approach to their work. They know how to use a spreadsheet, are comfortable taking data and making a chart, and are interested in a numerical approach to news.

What should PR pros know before reaching out to Quartz?
Our newsroom runs on a series of obsessions – which are topics of macroeconomics that drive a lot of what we do. You can click on the Obsessions link to see what those are.

Those are the topics that we are laser-focused on and care most about. Being familiar with how we cover those is a good cheat sheet.  

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