Bobby Ghosh at his Time office on his last day there in June.
With Bobby Ghosh being one of the most familiar — and recognizable — South Asian faces in American journalism today, The Aerogram was only too glad to get a few minutes to chat with the former international editor of Time, who was recently announced as Quartz’s new managing editor.
Ghosh, whose prowess in journalism can be seen in stories like this report from Baghdad in 2006, this analysis of Islamophobia in America in 2010, or this profile of Sachin Tendulkar in 2012, talked with us over the phone about his jump from Time to Quartz, the changing face of journalism, and more.
First off — why did you make the move to Quartz from Time? Also, what is going to be your strategy for your role as managing editor of Quartz?
Bobby Ghosh: Well, I’ve been a big admirer of Quartz since they launched nearly two years ago. I’ve been a fan of Kevin Delaney [editor in chief, Quartz], and I know Mitra [Kalita, ideas editor, Quartz] quite well personally. So, you know, I’ve been watching them, and I think they are on to something really smart, and almost essential, which is [being] the chronicler of the new global economy.I was keen to switch to a digital platform, and this was the smartest one that I know personally.
When they reached out to me [for this job], it was a sort of no-brainer, really, for me. I didn’t have that much hesitation. I had done 16 years at Time, which is a long time, and so it seemed like a good time to leave. I was keen to switch to a digital platform, and this was the smartest one that I know personally. So it was quite easy to say yes [to them] quickly.
Quartz clearly is at a very important stage in their growth. They have acquired a certain critical mass, and [they] now need to build on it. And that’s why — it’s not just me — they are hiring a bunch of people. My function will be to run the newsroom and to provide some sort of guidance and leadership along with the rest of the leadership team.
My instinct is to take what I love about Quartz and do more of it. Adding more staff is the first step in that direction. What I like most about Quartz is that they are uncompromisingly smart. There is a tendency now to provide for traffic before building ability, and I think Quartz is being very smart, and not to, sort of, descend to click rates.
And so my instinct is to say to the people there: “More, please, and how can I help you to do more of this — more of what I like about Quartz.”
— S. Mitra Kalita (@mitrakalita) June 10, 2014
You’ve joined the team just as they launched Quartz India. What are your thoughts about Quartz India, and the Indian market for news?
BG: The virtues of the Indian market needn’t be explored anymore, because that’s been done by hundreds of other people… India is a huge market. There is obviously an advantage to being the first mover there. Lots of international media players have looked at the Indian market, and some have lost at the regulatory sort of conditions on print media, and others have spent their head how to get into a market that’s so diverse, and also how to reach an audience.
But I think Quartz doesn’t have to worry about all of those things, because it is a digital native. It immediately bypasses a lot of those concerns and goes straight for the audience. And it’s an audience that is evolving in a way that’s perfect for Quartz.
More and more Indians are plugged into the global economy. More and more Indians are plugged into the global economy.There’s an interest in understanding how India fits into the global economic scene, not simply as a country that has its own products and services, but as a country that now has its feet at the high table of world affairs.
And it’s about understanding how developments in India affect international markets, and how developments elsewhere in the world affect India. That’s something that more and more individuals will be paying attention to, and Quartz India is perfectly positioned to help navigate that. The nature of the new global economy is that it affects everything — it affects attitudes, it affects culture, it affects food, it affects politics, it affects conflict — and in turn, all of these things affect the global economy. So the idea is to capture all of that.
Quartz and Quartz India is very nicely set up to capture all of those things, and if we can help readers understand the seed of that to understand the context, we will be doing them a service, and we’ll be doing very well.
Bobby Ghosh with NBC News foreign correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin.
Going back to Quartz… There’s been quite some discussion about newsrooms in America not having enough persons of color. What are your thoughts about this point in the Quartz newsroom?
[Note: At the time of this interview, Ghosh hadn’t started working in the Quartz newsroom.]
BG: One of the great advantages of a completely new newsroom — and Quartz is like that — is that it is not burdened with any old legacies, both in terms of people you have and the hiring practices. And so you can go straight into the smartest and most evolved hiring best practices that are around.
And I think that’s already reflected pretty well in Quartz’s newsroom, which, from what little I know of it, is very international. Besides Mitra, I think there are other 4-5 South Asians in [what is] a relatively small newsroom. I can’t speak about the rest of the mix until I see the team. But knowing what I know of Mitra and Kevin, I am pretty confident that a very diverse newsroom is exactly what they have in mind.
You have often said that luck has played a major part in getting your journalism career to where it is today. Can you talk a little bit about that?
BG: I am not trying to be self-deprecating or anything like that — but my career is substantially a product of good fortune. There are various crucial moments—including this one [with Quartz] — where people took a chance on me, which, if you examine their choice purely in rational terms, perhaps they shouldn’t have taken that chance.
I am quite happy with my good fortune, and whenever I had the opportunity, I have worked very hard to make the most of it. But I am also respectful of the fact that it is fortune that got me to various stages in my career. And there are lots of other smart journalists, far more gifted than myself, who haven’t had that opportunity.
I don’t know how inspirational that is, and it is not particularly good career advice. But the idea is that, you know, don’t count luck out. And when the chance arises, when you get the opportunity, just grab it and do the very best you can.
When I started out in journalism, if anybody had told me that I would be one day working at Time magazine, I would When opportunities arise, I have become better at recognizing them as opportunities.have laughed long and hard. Because it would have been so completely out of the frame of reference — it would be like someone telling me that I’d go to the moon once. It was so far out of reach that I didn’t even really fantasize about it — who does, you know. I loved the magazine and admired many of its writers and so on, but it was completely out of my imagination. Perhaps that tells you about the limitations of my imagination.
And equally now, at Quartz, I would have admired it from a distance, but I would have been crazy to think that an opportunity would arise there for me. I thought, well, they are digital natives, they are new media, they are this completely different thing, and I wasn’t entirely sure that I would have an opportunity to go and work there.
So, when Kevin gave me this opportunity, my first response was, “Really? Me?” But that’s great. The one thing I have learnt over time is that when opportunities arise, I have become better at recognizing them as opportunities a bit more.
Bobby Ghosh at a studio in Providence, RI.
Speaking of digital — how do you see the future of journalism to be like? Will there be a place for print in the future?
BG: There will always be a place for print in the future. And I don’t think the place of print will be smaller in the way that people always think. Because the future is much bigger. The universe of journalism is now much larger. And print is one part of it — it’s no longer dominant, it hasn’t been dominant for my entire journalistic career. When I started out in journalism, people were saying television is [going to be the next big thing]; that television is killing print journalism. But journalism survived everything.The universe of journalism is now much larger.
But, that being said, the Web reaches far more people than ever before, and that can be only a good thing for everybody. A digital native media organisation like Quartz reaches people far across the globe. When I was a kid, to read international journalism, you had to spend quite a lot of money — money that I didn’t really have.
Now you can read international journalism by just going online anywhere in the world, and that’s a wonderful thing. We get to reach more and more people, faster and cheaper and easier than before. What’s wrong with that? That’s the best thing that can happen.
Even before I got this job, even at Time magazine, we were very clear that Time.com was going to be the way most people consume Time’s journalism. And that is already true by the way — already more people read Time online than the number of people who read the magazine at the peak of its circulation. Even when Time magazine was at the peak of its circulation, fewer people read Time magazine journalism than they do today.
So people talk about the decline of print and so on — but it’s not the decline of journalism. If anything, journalism is flourishing more than ever before, just in a different medium. And I think we shouldn’t be afraid of it, we should embrace it.
Aby Sam Thomas is a writer and journalist currently based out of Dubai. Talk to him on Twitter: @thisisaby.