A few years ago I was tasked with helping to recruit interns for The New York Times iOS team1. I traveled around to top-tier engineering programs at universities all over the northeast talking about the Times’s engineering culture and to students about what they wanted to be when they grew up.
One of these interviews stuck with me. I asked a junior what he saw himself doing in five years, and I’ll never forget what he said.
“I want to be the idea guy at a startup”.
I wish I could have stopped the interview right then and there. I wanted to tell this guy that there is no Santa Claus, that the Easter Bunny isn’t the one hiding the eggs, and that no such role exists or ever will.
Some nights I wonder where that guy is. I’m scared to look through my notes and check up on him, but I sincerely hope that he’s found some way to bring his ideas into the world — something to do or to make.
I wish we hadn’t separated those two concepts in English. ‘Faciō’, one of my favorite Latin verbs, encapsulates both concepts in a beautiful way. Anyway, back to doing. The ideas will come.
By the way, they’re still hiring. If you want to work there, or at Tumblr for that matter, email me. ↩
Inside The New York Times Building next week, it’s going to get harder to do your job. Clifford Levy, a Pulitzer prize winning journalist, and former coworker tweeted that the way to get this company thinking mobile first, is to block the website. Wait, what?
Just like Cliff and the others, I believe very strongly that if The Times is to survive, it needs to think about its apps and mobile website a hell of a lot more than www.nytimes.com, or “triple dub” as it’s known inside the company. But is blocking the site for its own employees really the right way to do that?
It feels like a punishment. Your dad is turning off the TV and making you eat your vegetables. This kind of paternalistic attitude is not what will spur the brilliant engineers and journalists at the Times to improve their pocket-sized offerings and consider the report from a mobile angle.
So what’s a better way to get a company as large and old as The New York Times to care more deeply about its report on phones, tablets, and watches? There’s no magic bullet, but in my years there I saw incredible ideas, people, and talent wasted on a website with declining traffic while the iOS app suffered a lack of attention from the newsroom. I saw initiative after initiative to make mobile more important flounder while many of the reporters still aimed to be on the front page of a gray piece of paper.
It may be that the way to make sure that employees of the Times care more about mobile is to point out when these failures happen, to be critical of the web first mindset, and to remind people every time they try to perfect a web layout, that they’re doing so for a rapidly declining number of readers. Along with that, the Grey Lady should be celebrating the teams and people who are getting this right, without putting people who still rely on the website in time out.
The newsroom brass at the Times are trying to solve a social problem with a technical solution and I can’t imagine anyone there that’s too happy about it. It feels robotic, oppressive, and downright annoying. Honest conversation and critique of the attitudes and norms of a century old organization will almost certainly be received better than playing with the valve of information flow inside the Times. I hope they reconsider.
For years now this website has merely pointed people to my profiles on other websites and social media services. It wasn’t always that way. In the past it housed my blog, a podcast I hosted, and even a photoblog at one point. Remember those?
It’s time to make this place my own again. A place to put the things I write and make. And more than that, a place to experiment.
Inspired by my heroes and my friends, I’ve decided to write under my name. And while I expect that what’s here will change a lot of over time, I’ll try not to break too many links along the way.