Posts Tagged ‘The New York Times’

New York and tech entrepreneurs

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

The New York Times has its room for debate feature today on a New York City effort to build a new engineering school in the city in hopes of spurring an innovation industry. The question for the respondents: Can New York rival Silicon Valley? Here are two interesting passages.

Until recently, “technology” was largely about “moving electrons on wires.” Now, “technology” is about building all kinds of interesting applications on top of the Internet. An increasing number of engineers and entrepreneurs are applying their ideas and energy to creating compelling services on the Internet. —Fred Wilson


New York can never become Silicon Valley; and it shouldn’t. The mythologies of New York are entirely different from the singular lore of the valley. The start-ups we see emerging from New York already have a texture unlike those in California. Tumblr vs. Posterous is one often cited example. Kickstarter is another example of a start-up that seems quintessentially New York. This difference should be nurtured. —Craig Mod

Olympic spoilers, journo-fundamentalism, and civic value

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

The influential new media thinker Dan Gillmor today took offense after some readers requested that The New York Times stop putting the names of Olympic winners in headlines and blurbs on the main page of its website. He was put off by the suggestion that NBC’s TV rights and the network’s decision to air the most popular events during the evening should affect the way other media organizations do business.

I am usually on the side of defending the principles of journalism, but I found myself disagreeing with Gillmor’s construction of “real journalists” versus the money-motivated “fantasy world” of tape-delay television. I put some thought into a comment on his site, and thought I would put it here as well.

I think there’s a difference between sports and entertainment news and news on public affairs. I, for one, neither watch NBC’s coverage nor read more timely coverage of the Olympics: I don’t care who wins! But I am a graduate of a journalism school and a young veteran of reporting in several media. I understand the drive to put things out there quickly. Timeliness, I was taught, is an important element of newsworthiness.

The argument that allowing people to structure their information in a different bundle is offensive to journalism, however, depends on the idea that timeliness trumps other values in news. I think the most important value of news is its civic function.

Do entertainment and sports news serve a civic function? If you believe that community identity and cross-cutting ties are a key element of U.S. democracy (which puts you in the company of de Tocqueville and Robert Putnam), then the answer is yes. But does timely reporting online matter in this context? I think there may be a civic, social capital-based argument for letting people wait for the NBC coverage, so that they will watch these things together.

Is timeliness more important than the civic outcome? Elements of newsworthiness do not always serve us well; witness the speed- and conflict-fueled daily political crossfire. My point here is that if “journalism” is a form to be defended, we must ask why. To the extent that fundamentals of journalism were developed in an era of daily newspapers, I think it’s important to ask whether a reliance on the fundamentals serves the same purpose now.

I know I am not alone in reevaluating the pillars of newsworthiness that the late Professor Dick Schwarzlose introduced me to as an undergraduate journalism student. Gillmor is far more forward-looking than most. I think we do, however, need to keep in mind that the defense of journalism as an institution is motivated by civic outcomes. (Paul Starr last year in The New Republic gave eloquent voice to this perspective.) Fundamentals of journalism are intermediary goals and must be adjusted if conditions change.

Information systems at center in terror story

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

It’s not every day that you read a lead political story in The New York Times and find 10 mentions of “information.”* But in today’s report on the intelligence failures that allowed a man to board a flight to the United States with explosives in his pants, information aggregation, processing, and distribution is the core of the story.

The political noise since Sunday has been over whether “the system worked,” as Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano gracelessly stated (though she clarified later). President Barack Obama yesterday noted that there was a “systemic failure” in connecting information about this particular attacker and signals that a “Nigerian” may be part of an upcoming attack. Obama said, however, that “once the suspect attempted to take down Flight 253, after his attempt, it’s clear that passengers and crew, our homeland security systems, and our aviation security took all appropriate actions.”

The confusion here comes from the fact that there are two systems under discussion. An information system built to gather, analyze, and redistribute intelligence failed, but a response system designed to deal with a crisis apparently worked.

This is a rare case in which the collection, processing, and use of information by a government makes headlines. Below the political blame-seeking and analyses of implications for an “embattled” White House before midterm elections that are still a year away lies a serious discussion of the ability of the United States government to manage security-related information.

The information system that failed on Sept. 11, 2001, was changed drastically with the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which were each intended to be central nodes for better cooperation among bureaucracies for national security. The new system, in this case, suffered from familiar failures.

Ideally, the system would have put the attacker on a no-fly list (though as security researcher Chris Soghoian has shown, this may not have stopped him from flying). He wasn’t on the list, because no one connected his father’s statements that he might be involved with terrorists in Yemen with other intelligence about a coming attack by a Nigerian. Aside from bureaucratic procedure, it seems a variety of information architectures and processing rules might have made this connection more apparent, either by human or automated analysis.

* There were 10 mentions in the print edition. Online may be different.