Quartz editor-in-chief Katherine Bell on how to build a global newsroom

Quartz editor Katherine Bell: Six things I've learned about how to run a global newsroom

Katherine Bell, Quartz editor-in-chief

Katherine Bell is the editor-in-chief of Quartz, a US-headquartered business news website. Here she shares her insight into how she manages a team of 50+journalists spread across ten time zones.

When I woke up this morning at 6:15am New York time, about a third of our newsroom had already been working for hours.

By 7:30am we’d published ten stories written by reporters in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Nairobi, Cairo, Mumbai, Delhi, and London, including reports on how China can help Russia survive sanctions, Indian spiritual centers in Europe aiding Ukrainian refugees, African and Indian students stranded in Ukraine, and how a disruption in Ukrainian neon exports would exacerbate the global chip shortage.

We are a relatively small newsroom, but we have reporters and editors located in ten time zones. Managing such a globally-distributed newsroom can be challenging logistically, but our geographic diversity is the best thing about Quartz’s journalism.

It makes our news analysis more nuanced, more accurate and trustworthy, and more capable of explaining the enormously complex challenges that readers around the world want to understand.

Most of the biggest problems facing us are global in nature: Covid, climate change, rising authoritarianism, inequality, misinformation and disinformation, and supply chain shortages.

The more internationally diverse a newsroom is, the more prepared it will be to cover these issues.

The strength of our combined perspectives is never more apparent than in a global crisis, when events in one region reverberate everywhere else, their consequences compounding so fast no one can keep up.

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When the world learned about the Omicron variant of Covid-19, for example, Quartz’s first stories were written by African journalists in Harare, Nairobi, and London, and our reporters in India. They avoided the assumptions and bias that appeared in many of the early US reports, immediately pointing out the danger in punishing South Africa for its quick scientific work and transparency, as well as the illogical nature of the travel bans other countries rushed to impose.

That influence from reporters and editors around the world extends to every story we publish. They ask questions reporters in the US wouldn’t ask, suggest story ideas editors in the US wouldn’t think of, remind us to be vigilant for exclusionary or biased language, and ensure that we consider multiple points of view. They are the reason our audience is as global as our newsroom.

Here are six things we’ve learned at Quartz about covering global news responsibly:

1) Hire local writers and concentrate on a few regions

I wish we had reporters in Central and South America, the Middle East, Russia, and more places in Europe. But being realistic about the number of places we can cover well has allowed us to build deeper local expertise and audiences in the areas we cover most – Africa, India, China, and Japan – while keeping our journalism overall from being too US-centric.

2) Collaborate often

Quartz reporters often pair up to write stories, with one reporter bringing more regional expertise and the other contributing more specific subject matter knowledge. This results in better stories, and both reporters enjoy and learn from it.

3) Do everything you can to make asynchronous work easy, collegial, and inclusive

Be thoughtful about how your teams use Slack or other newsroom tools, and don’t put all the burden of awkwardly timed meetings on the people furthest from your headquarters.

4) Consider international perspectives as part of diversity and inclusion initiatives

It’s important to be sensitive to the fact that diversity and inclusion issues differ in their specifics regionally. And almost any international experience is valuable – immigrating as a child, moving abroad to study, or relocating as an adult all help us question assumptions, recognise bias, and see things more clearly from multiple angles.

5 Your newsroom leadership should be international, too

Quartz’s most senior editorial leaders are currently all in the US, and there’s no question that results in blind spots.

6) There’s no such thing as a “global reader”

Here’s what Quartz’s style guide says about writing for a global audience:

Not every story has to appeal to every reader; stories find their audiences. But remember that there’s a big audience of English-speakers out there who want to read journalism that pays at least as much attention to what transcends borders as to what’s contained within them. So with everything you write, ask: Could this interest someone on the other side of the world? And if so, has it been written in a way that will make sense to them?

All of our perspectives are layered with local, regional, and global lenses, and their priority relative to each other shifts constantly, depending on both our own situations and whatever is happening in the news. Writing for readers around the world, each one with a unique and never-static set of circumstances and point of view, requires a great deal of self-awareness, empathy, and open-mindedness, all of which make us better journalists no matter who we’re writing for, or what we’re writing about.

Read more: Interview with Quartz owner and CEO Zack Seward