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How to reboot print-centric thinking on beats: Lessons from Quartz

Quartz, the business news website, pioneered the term “obsession” to describe coverage areas that are impermanent and transcend traditional beat structure. A number of legacy newsrooms have taken inspiration from the concept in their beat reorganizations.

If your newsroom is entertaining thoughts of revamping its beat structure, it’s worth considering this essay by a Quartz editor on why the popular financial news site chose to organize its team around ever-changing “obsessions.” The thesis:

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.

Digital publishing frees news organizations from the constraints of a structure dictated by print. After all, there’s little evidence that digital readers want their news organized in buckets that correspond to sections of the newspaper. Meanwhile, the world is changing, and our priority beats and topics need to be changing with it.