Quartz and the phenomenology of news

Anyone who’s visited Mediagazer in the past 24 hours surely took the time to dive into Gideon Lichfield’s explanation of what, precisely, Quartz News intends on doing upon launching later this year.

It’s a worthwhile read because a) Quartz will be an interesting platform as it develops and b) Lichfield raises more than a few very important points for news organizations who are still struggling to “figure it out.”

That’s not to say that somehow Quartz has hit upon the Holy Grail of news concepts. We’ll see about that. But the distance Lichfield puts between today’s news environment and the beat reporters of yore is a fascinating lens through which to look at our evolving habitat.

So 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.

On top of the other ideas presented in this blog post, one of the themes I’m picking up on is the need to revolutionize how the newsroom works day in and day out. Good journalism and reporting requires time and depth of knowledge (breadth, too). But how can we distill those elements into a more meaningful work flow, especially given the saturation of the news market?

Well, that’s certainly a tough question. But Quartz and its rewriting of the drawing board may be a worthy place to begin.

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