Professional Fridays visits The New York Times and Quartz

Covering the world digitally and in print at the New York Times, Quartz puts a fresh spin on business news

By Jimin Kim and Arielle Martinez

The Professional Friday team poses in the New York Times building lobby on Friday, Sept. 4, 2015. From left: Chereese Cross, Jon Friedman, Carly Gassmann, Hager Eldaas, Jimin Kim, Lindsay Andarakis, Jonathan Sanders, Kelly Saberi, Eric Schmid, Rylie Bernard, Diana Lopez, Peter Dorr, Giovanni Ortiz, Giselle Miranda, Arielle Martinez, Lawrence Nzuve.

The Professional Friday team poses in the New York Times building lobby on Friday, Sept. 4, 2015. From left: Chereese Cross, Jon Friedman, Carly Gassmann, Hager Eldaas, Jimin Kim, Lindsay Andarakis, Jonathan Sanders, Kelly Saberi, Eric Schmid, Rylie Bernard, Diana Lopez, Peter Dorr, Giovanni Ortiz, Giselle Miranda, Arielle Martinez, Lawrence Nzuve.

No one said being a successful journalist comes without sacrifices.

A group of 15 students from Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism were reminded of that when they visited the offices of the New York Times and Quartz for a Professional Fridays trip on Sept. 4.

A few of the students started school at Stony Brook about two weeks ago. Some came from places as far away as Kenya or from nearby towns on Long Island. They had goals, such as being investigative reporters, science journalists or writers for magazines like Cosmopolitan. The trip united the students under a common purpose — strive for success and learn from journalists who have made it.

That purpose drew Lawrence Nzuve. The trip would be Nzuve’s first time seeing New York City after coming to America two weeks ago from Kenya. In his home country, he hopes to start a science journalism publication after completing the graduate science journalism program at Stony Brook University. He had been an anthropologist curating and collecting human fossils in Kenya for 13 years. He grew up reading the New York Times and said he admires its in-depth storytelling.

“I would like to know how the New York Times works,” said Nzuve. “That’s something anyone who comes to New York would want, especially if you’re doing journalism.”

After the LIRR delivered the students right on time into Penn Station, they walked for 13.4 minutes to the Times’ offices, a 52-floor building on Eighth Avenue. Inside, they met Michael Slackman, the Times’ international managing editor. He spoke about how the Times works to exceed its accomplishments.

“What the New York Times does day in and day out, especially these days, is more awesome than 160 years of musty old history upstairs,” said Slackman, regarding the Times’ memorabilia on the sixteenth floor.

He discussed the publication’s coverage of the migration crisis where thousands of people are fleeing conflicts in Africa and the Middle East and seeking refuge in Europe. A Times foreign correspondent, Anemona Hartocollis, has been traveling with the migrants from Greece to Hungary. She delivers up to four reports a day.

“She has I think, humanized this story in a way that has kept it from just being about big numbers,” Slackman said about Hartocollis’ vivid descriptions of the migrants’ struggles.

BuzzFeed may have one of these stories, but they’re never going to be able to compete with the depth and breadth of what the New York Times does and what the New York Times stands for,” he said.

Joining Slackman in the conversation was Shreeya Sinha, assistant digital editor for investigations and obituaries. She said the Times stays on the cutting edge of digital presentation and seeks journalists who can do it all.

“I think traditional reporters and writers are the bread and butter,” said Sinha. “They’re the core. I think the next stage of evolution for journalists like myself is that digital editors are hopefully trained as reporters on the field.”

Following the visit to the Times, sophomore Rylie Bernard said she hopes to be an investigative reporter and is willing to face the challenges.

“I would travel anywhere, I would work anywhere,” Bernard said. “If it’s interesting and they want me and it’s something that would work for my life, there’s not that much I wouldn’t take.”

Next, the Professional Fridays team went to the headquarters of Quartz, an international business news website, on Park Avenue in the Union Square neighborhood.

Atlantic Media founded Quartz in September 2012. Atlantic Media is a company that publishes the Atlantic and National Journal among other news magazines and digital publications.

In the last three years, Quartz’s news staff has grown to about 150 employees, Director of Communications Emily Passer told the Professional Fridays team.

Quartz sets itself apart from older business news outlets like Bloomberg and Forbes by approaching business news from unique angles with a conversational style and a mobile-first strategy.

“We do not want to be kind of the typical stuffy business writing,” Lauren Brown, the special projects editor, said. “So when I am commissioning a piece and telling a new writer about what I want, I say engaging and conversational.”

Rather than organizing coverage into traditional beats, Quartz has its writers follow what it calls “obsessions” — anything from “Fashion” to “Modi’s Moment” to “The Next Billion.”

“Every story is a business story,” said Brown. “You can find some business angle, and you can learn how to look at the numbers, how to look for business angles. But, if you look at a lot of what Quartz does, we’re trying to connect the dots in the global economy.”

Reporters at Quartz also get to select the pictures, links, headline and graphics that go with their stories, Brown said.

The site has racked up about 10 million unique users a month, according to The Guardian. The majority of Quartz’s traffic comes from Facebook and Twitter, and most stories are under 500 words or more than 800.

“When I say ‘social,’ I’m talking about Facebook and Twitter, but in its essence it’s just ‘What is interesting?’” said Brown. “‘What do people want to read?’”

The site is still relatively small and young, but the public is taking notice.

“We’ve entered a new era in journalism where everyone from Vox and BuzzFeed is getting interviews with President Obama,” Brown said. “We’re in a different place now where different institutions have to pay attention to digital media.”

However, Brown said there are a few things that set Quartz apart not only from traditional media, but also fellow new media outlets.

“We also care a lot about respecting the reader,” said Brown. “In the proliferation of online media, there’s a lot of snark, and from the beginning we didn’t want to be like that. We didn’t want to talk down to the reader.”

Quartz also emphasizes visual storytelling. This year, the site launched Atlas, a new platform for sharing and creating charts to go with its stories. Six months ago, Quartz started building a small team of video journalists and distributing videos through various platforms like Facebook and YouTube.

“Video is still very nascent, and I think we’ve found a bit of a Quartz voice and a Quartz style, but it’s still something we’re exploring,” Brown said.

More than 40 percent of Quartz’s traffic comes from outside the United States. The site launched an Africa edition in June, an Indian edition in June 2014 and an office in London in summer 2013. Brown said Quartz is taking a “post-national” approach to international coverage.

“People are living all over, working all over,” she said. “So we saw this as an opening where we saw a lot of English-language business publications are from a U.S. perspective for a U.S. perspective. We’re trying to broaden that and offer a more global perspective.”

The trip ended with the students learning more about journalism opportunities. Chereese Cross, a sophomore journalism student, said she used to be unsure if journalism was her true passion. She had interests writing children’s novels and studying law. She said her trip to the Times and Quartz was inspiring.

“I definitely feel like I made the right decision,” said Cross about selecting journalism as her major. “It showed me that this profession can really be a fun one and help me get out there more and really make a difference.”