“Some day we’ll all be reading our papers electronically,” said Arthur Gelb, who started his career at The New York Times in 1944 and served as the paper’s managing editor from 1986 to 1990. “That’s just the way. Am I happy about it? No, because I lived my life with the wonderful past of the printed newspaper. It can’t be stopped.”
Mr. Gelb, who chronicled his life at The Times in the book City Room, offered his reflection on the future of newsprint in the context of what might otherwise appear to be an unrelated topic: The Times’ move this year from its century-old headquarters at 229 West 43rd Street to the gleaming new 52-story tower on Seventh and Eighth avenues, between 40th and 41st streets.
But nobody at The Times seems to be able to talk about the new building without talking about the future of the newspaper—or rather, the future of the news organization. Amid harangues from rogue shareholders that the newspaper isn’t making enough money, and amid dire predictions for the future of the “dead-tree” media industry, publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. is moving his company into a building that will demand the kinds of changes he has been trumpeting for more than a decade.
The old building at 229 West 43rd Street—the noisy, hulking bricks-and-mortar newspaper factory chronicled by Mr. Gelb—is still essentially an industrial building; the new one is an airy, transparent embodiment of Mr. Sulzberger’s post-newspaper newspapering plans for The Times.
Cascading style sheets replace plates; pixels stand in for ink, the virtual for the physical.
The move to the new building will force a change in the newspaper’s basic DNA. The product of The New York Times is no longer a newspaper but the news itself, in whatever form it takes.
On April 17, 10 employees of The New York Times’ Web division will be the first to move into the new Times Building, the futuristic, Renzo Piano–designed skyscraper looming over the Port Authority bus terminal.
“The new building, in terms of architecture today, and the kind of new skyscrapers being built, is magnificent,” said Mr. Gelb. “But I have no idea how The Times will function in that building.”
IT’S NOT REALLY A QUESTION OF WHETHER THE NEW BUILDING will be comfortable. By every account, the building is very All Mod Cons, right down to the forward-thinking and ergonomically sound Knoll desk chairs at every reporter’s desk. Rather, it’s a question of how the essential function of the company will change in an environment that was built to force that change.
By April 23, roughly 40 staffers will be situated in the Web newsroom on the tower’s ninth floor, according to Fiona Spruill, the department’s editor.
By mid-June, when construction is completed on the new high-tech newsroom—located in floors two through four of a pedestal-like lower wing of the building—several Web producers will head downstairs, integrating with their fellow print reporters.
Instead of reporters sitting next to the people whose bylines will be adjacent to theirs in print, they’ll be sitting next to people producing content for several different platforms at once.
“We’re doing the best we can so the distinction between the platforms is reduced,” said Jonathan Landman, deputy managing editor. “The idea is simply to try and get the people who work together as close as you can.”
At West 43rd Street, it was difficult to shift some veteran (read: cranky) Times reporters around—but the new building and floor plan offer a clean slate.
For instance, Times staffers who work on the DealBook Web site, currently scattered throughout the business section, will now be clustered together.
“We’re trying to figure out how to reorganize the newsroom to serve this multi-platform world,” said Mr. Landman. “We have an organization that was set up by the rhythms of a printing-plant schedule. The rhythm of the newspaper had to do with how you get to the readers’ front door. That determines how copy editors worked, and so on.”
The directive is already different for reporters like Andrew Ross Sorkin, the 30-year-old business reporter and DealBook creator (whose first byline ran in The Times while he was still in high school), and for another young Timesman, Sewell Chan, who will be running his own Web-focused site.
On March 28, Mr. Chan, the prolific metro reporter, left City Hall to embark on his new assignment: bureau chief of City Room, an online desk at The Times.
City Room will be politically oriented, but it has also been compared to Gothamist.com by the tech people in-house, according to a Times staffer familiar with the prototype. Although currently in a rudimentary state, the Web site is expected to provide tabs for politics, public transportation, crime, courts, schools and neighborhoods.
That afternoon, Mr. Chan held a farewell party (with chocolate cupcakes!) in Room 9, according to a source, which was attended by fellow reporters and a few guests—including Mayor Bloomberg’s press secretary, Stu Loeser.
Mr. Chan’s City Room will not be a room, but a URL on the Internet. Call it Room 9.0. Two weeks before his mid-day cupcake soirée, the 29-year reporter was named as the first bureau chief of the Web site, “the most audacious online venture the Metro desk has so far conceived and committed to,” according to a staff memo sent by metro editor Joe Sexton.
So far, details have been scarce. The memo noted that there will be “breaking news and human interest, updates and follow-ups, local history and color, Q&A’s with newsmakers and our reporters, photos, audio and Web links to other New York sites.”
“Joe Sexton asked a group of editors and Web producers to propose new ways of presenting local news on nytimes.com,” said deputy metro editor Patrick LaForge, in an e-mail to The Observer. “After a basic idea had been sketched out, Sewell was asked to join the planning group. After the final proposal was approved, he was offered the job and accepted it.”
Mr. LaForge, who will serve as Mr. Chan’s editor, said that he expects the Empire Zone blog to be folded into the Web venture. Although Mr. LaForge said that he would like to have City Room up and running before the newsroom move, there is still “a lot of design, planning and technical work” that remains.
“It was not that long ago that we hired Sewell to be an old-fashioned ink-stained wretch on our metro desk,” said managing editor Jill Abramson at a recent Columbia Journalism Review panel. “He’s about to embark on reinventing himself as pretty much a 100 percent Web—focused on metro news—animal. It feels like some of the most vibrant ventures we have going are on the Web.”
“In the past two years, I have seen the mindset of our reporting staff change,” said Ms. Abramson later in a phone interview. “The biorhythms were set to the newspaper. What everyone thought about first, and sometimes thought about only, was the Platonic ideal for a newspaper story.”
“We want to build the new newsroom and put integration into the DNA of everyone here,” said business editor Larry Ingrassia, “so that we are thinking about what we are doing on the Web from the start.”
Mr. Ingrassia addressed interested Times staffers on March 29, in the page-one conference room, for a one-hour talk titled “The BizDay Pilot: What’s Going On Over There?”
And what is going on?
There are two major goals for BizDay’s newsroom reinvention, according to Mr. Ingrassia: breaking more news, and adding multimedia components to stories.
And the Times-reinvention guinea pig has already exhibited the strength of multi-platforms, according to Mr. Ingrassia, with coverage of February’s stock-market drop.
Ms. Abramson noticed, too.
“The newly integrated business desk, in the midst of our reinventing initiative, fed a steady stream of great stories to all our platforms, throughout the wee morning hours, the day and last night, into today,” she wrote in a Feb. 28 staff memo.
On Feb. 27, the coverage began with David Barboza’s report from Shanghai, and continued throughout the next two days with at least a dozen updates or additions. There were several updated versions of a story (with new tops), a column David Leonhardt, an audio interview with Floyd Norris, a slide show and a sidebar.
But won’t the multi-platform approach mean more work for reporters?
“It’s more a state of mind than changing what people do,” said Mr. Ingrassia. “If you’re going to go on an interview, tape it so there can be outtakes on the Web.
“We know that things aren’t going to hold as long, so why not get it right out?”
But while Times staffers are getting more out on the Web, they’re keeping a bit for themselves, too.
For instance, in covering the 2008 Presidential election, Times reporters will have a new tool at their disposal, kept hidden on the newspaper’s internal Web site: a politics wiki.
Like the most commonly known wiki—Wikipedia, the user-generated encyclopedia—the Times politics wiki is based on collaboration, with staffers adding and editing content.
On March 26, The Times’ Conrad Mulcahy—a 29-year old assistant to assistant managing editors Rick Berke and Craig Whitney, and the person who maintains the politics wiki—first alerted the newsroom about it.
“This is meant to be an agile resource that grows and changes at the speed of political news,” Mr. Mulcahy wrote in a staff memo. But since the wiki “lives behind the firewall,” in Mr. Mulcahy’s words, what’s actually there?
So far, the wiki includes a staff directory, calendar, internal memos about polling and statistics, links to news sites, archives of stories on candidates, and an explanation of the new political desk, according to political editor Dick Stevenson.
But it’s meant to be more expansive—like one giant collaborative reporter’s notebook for the political staff.
Mr. Stevenson said that the wiki is just one part of the broader changes to the politics desk, which he described as a “cross-platform, unified approach to covering politics.”
Again with the platforms!
But in the competitive political-reporting world, might even journalists on the same team be reluctant to offer up their resources?
“At least right now, with our team of political reporters, I don’t think that happens at all,” said reporter Adam Nagourney. “I think people are very cooperative.”
Mr. Nagourney said that he might be wary about adding very sensitive information to the wiki—such as a source’s cell-phone number.
While Mr. Mulcahy and Mr. Chan (both in their late 20’s) take on new Web-focused roles, Mr. Sorkin continues DealBook online—but with a print twist.
Displaying that Web and print integration that Times reporters are so fond of talking about, the first-ever special section of DealBook is slated to be published in the April 4 issue of The Times.
THIS MONTH, AS NYTIMES.COM EMPLOYEES START moving their monitors into the shiny new tower, and the West 43rd Street staffers continue packing dusty reporters’ pads into orange-plastic containers, they’ll be presented with a parting gift.
Reporter David Dunlap, a 32-year Times veteran, is creating a 64-page tabloid-sized magazine with a floor-by-floor tour of the West 43rd Street building, headquarters from 1913 through the present. He began the project about a month ago, and is being assisted by art director John Cayea and a few colleagues.
“I’m drawing principally from the photo archives that The Times maintains in its morgue,” said Mr. Dunlap. Also, he has obtained images from the “separate, discreet” archives maintained by the Times Company.
“Having seen our new newsroom in its unfinished state in January, I’m excited about the move,” said Mr. Dunlap, “though I can’t help but confess a bit of ambivalence.”
“Anyone who joined The Times in the past 10 years has never known this building when it trembled from the power of the presses as they began their nightly run,” he added. “Part of our decision to use this format was to evoke the paper’s industrial heritage.
“This ought to be on newsprint.”
The Great Caruso Saves the Day At Portfolio
Eighteen months after Condé Nast hired Joanne Lipman to launch a high-end business magazine, since named Portfolio, the 300-plus-page glossy has now been shipped off to the printers. Huzzah!
But it takes a lot of hands to edit those 6,000-word features, and in the final pre-launch push, another established editor was corralled into 4 Times Square: Michael Caruso.
Mr. Caruso, who abruptly left his last job as Men’s Journal’s editor in chief in October 2005—and won a six-figure settlement from publisher Jann Wenner—was hired last January as a freelance editor. For the first issue, he will have the title of “contributing editor-at-large.”
Formerly editor in chief of Details, Mr. Caruso is no stranger to expensive launches, either: He helmed News Corp.’s now-defunct Maximum Golf in 2001.
Initially, Mr. Caruso only showed up occasionally at Portfolio, but soon started keeping regular hours on the 17th floor; he grabbed the office used by Matt Cooper when in town from Washington, D.C., according to a staffer.
(Mr. Cooper has since been relegated to a cubicle near the staff writers).
And even though it’s only been a couple months, Mr. Caruso will soon enjoy a bit of R&R.
Recently, Ms. Lipman, as a reward to her dutiful staff, sent around an e-mail announcing the “Condé Nast Portfolio Long Weekend.”
Most staffers—except those putting the finishing touches on the Web site—have been given April 5 and 6 off.
Of course, even without a ritzy Condé Nast bash to prepare for, it’s still important to rest up before the April 16 launch.
That night, Portfolio staffers will be toasting one another (and S.I.?) at an intimate soirée in the Beaver Bar, located in André Balazs’ sleek downtown condo, according to a source.