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(Updated) Your People Skills Are Just as Important In Person as They Are Online: Interview with Quartz’s Ian Myers

The Stern Oppy is partnering with the Quartz app to enable students to be better writers and we’re not talking about essays. In fact, we’re talking about smart, professional comments.

“Eight Blog Commenting Mistakes You Need to Avoid at All Cost.” “How to Use Smart Commenting to Get Noticed on LinkedIn.”

These headlines are splashing across the web as more and more people expose themselves online. Commenting (on blogs, news sites or professional pages) is just one way to build your network and grow your own professional voice.

For this issue, we had the opportunity to sit with one of the senior leaders of Quartz, Ian Myers. Myers is the former CEO of NewsPicks US, the joint venture between NewsPicks Japan and Dow Jones. In late July last year, Uzabase, the parent company of NewsPicks Japan acquired Quartz; NewsPicks US then became integrated with Quartz, effectively becoming rebranded as the Quartz app.

Unlike any other mainstream platform, NewsPicks US was seen as a revolutionary quality content curator, enabling users to follow and interact with industry leaders who would share and comment on the news they were reading. Quartz app continues to adhere to this vision of a uniquely diverse and interactive news platform. Moreover, it’s a perfect environment for professionals to network and connect with Quartz Pros, a title given to industry leaders who regularly share their thoughts on the app. The current suite of Quartz Pros includes: Joe Lubin, Ethereum co-founder and ConsenSys founder; Ian Bremmer, President of Eurasia Group; Cammie Dunaway, CMO of Duolingo and more.

Furthermore, what sets Quartz app apart is in how they deal with noise. The top comments are driven by analytics and users are not allowed to leave comments on others’. There’s a certain liberating reassurance that a platform with constructive discussion is possible, without the baseless, the uninformative and trollish behaviors.

Stern Oppy: Ian, thanks for your time! Can you tell us about what you do at Quartz and how your role has shifted from NewsPicks to the Quartz app?

Ian Myers: I’m the General Manager of Platform at Quartz, overseeing all aspects of the app – from product to curation, community, and marketing. To be honest, it’s not all that different from my role as CEO of NewsPicks US. What has shifted is that we now need to work with, and within, a much larger organization than what was NewsPicks US. Joining forces with Quartz made significantly more resources available to us (branding, marketing, design, events, audience, etc.), but unlocking them can be a challenge. Figuring out how to best utilize these new resources and ensuring that they are deployed properly are key.

I also need to make sure we are still moving fast – anytime you join a large organization, things slow down. Multiple stakeholders, business processes, it’s a recipe for treading water. In our business, we need to move quickly and that’s not easy in a company the size of Quartz.

Stern Oppy: Companies adapting to a rapidly changing digital age has meant large acquisitions in the market. The price tag on Quartz, up to $110 million based on financial performance, rivals that of the Washington Post and Boston Globe, which were $250 million and $70 million respectively. Why was Quartz such an important buy for Uzabase and how will the transaction add value to the rebranded app?

IM: It was a mutually beneficial transaction, in which both companies (NewsPicks US and Quartz) each needed a resource that the other had. Before the acquisition, we had planned to build our own newsroom, hire an Editor-in-Chief and journalists to begin producing original content for subscription. Quartz [already] has an incredibly talented newsroom, with all the apparatus to create high quality original content immediately. For Quartz, they needed a path to a new business and new revenue, as advertising alone is not a sustainable business model for media anymore. Our platform unlocks a whole new way for them to build a strong community and distribute subscription content directly to their consumers.  

Stern Oppy: According to the New York Times, Quartz will be focusing next year on reader revenue, more specifically, a user subscription service. News is everywhere and it’s free. How will Quartz convince readers to pay for their news?

IM: It’s true that content is everywhere and largely free, but we have a firm belief that content worth paying for can always be created. Why do people pay for an HBO subscription when they already have content from Hulu? Why do you buy a book, when you can read free stories online? Because the content is valuable enough.

Now, I don’t want to diminish how difficult it is to create this kind of content, but it’s there. In terms of Quartz specifically, we are going after a gap in the market. Most of the big names in subscription are daily news sources (think: the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, etc.) – what we are providing is not daily news, but magazine style feature content on a daily basis. In-depth and exclusive is our mantra, not once a month, but every day, and we believe that is an offering nobody else can provide.

Stern Oppy: Also, unlike other news apps, Quartz has the Quartz Pros, made up of some very senior, key leaders of today, including Kristalina Georgieva (CEO of World Bank) and Reshma Saujani (Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code). How does Quartz grow its group of experts in order to reach even more readers?

IM: Quartz has had an excellent network of top contributors for years, many of whom are now Quartz Pros. Each month, we add five new Pros who we believe represent a diversity of gender, industry, perspective, and insight. Some are already contributors to Quartz, some we reach out to directly ourselves.  

Stern Oppy: Five new Pros per month! The growing leadership base certainly keeps users like me engaged. Quartz app asks readers to join the Quartz community for “all the intelligence, without the noise.” I’m curious – how do you control for noise on the app? How is noise defined?

IM: The from a product and design perspective, the app is built to highlight noteworthy content and commentary from our users. We use an algorithm that combines a variety of factors, such as the number of likes and length of comments, in order to rank comments from the top down. We also only allow users to comment once per story, and not at each other, in reply or as a thread. This creates an environment not conducive to trolling or the noise that other platforms suffer from.

Noise is defined as all that which distracts us from meaningful interactions. On Twitter, or Linkedin, this would be self-promotion, aggression, or combative interactions.  

Stern Oppy: Ian, we’ve talked a lot offline about how the Quartz app can help build a student’s professional persona. Can you tell us about the key value add for students?

IM: If I had to choose one key value add, it would be the ability to become authentically informed on a daily basis. I believe that the best way to distinguish yourself as a student in front of professors or prospective employers, is to display an authentic understanding of the current events shaping our world. The Quartz app and the community behind it, can provide students with not only the news they need, but the analysis and perspectives of an intelligent community to anchor their own analysis and discussion. This is the key difference between us and the rest of the news sources out there.

Stern Oppy: Speaking for the editorial board at the Stern Oppy, I can’t emphasize enough just how important we believe it is for our student community to enhance personal branding. Many of us shy away from or feel difficulty in expressing our opinions and crafting a story. We definitely believe that being on the Quartz app can be a way to ease into this. Thanks for your thoughtful response and we look forward to continuing to work with you and your team!


Download the Quartz app! Take a moment to read some of the top comments on the Quartz app below, to inspire you to post your own.

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