< The News Tower

Transcript

Friday, May 30, 2008

BROOKE GLADSTONE:
This is On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD:
And I'm Bob Garfield back with a special On the Media. Our show this week about space. The quintessential nexus of media and interior space is, you might say, the newsroom. As we mentioned earlier, WNYC, where On the Media is produced, is currently relocating and expanding its newsroom, so we have grappled with this very issue of how to best arrange our own space, and so too have a host of other media organizations that are trying to integrate the centuries-old practice of journalism with 21st century technology.

Paul Goldberger is architecture critic for The New Yorker, where he wrote about two new buildings, that of The New York Times and Bloomberg L.P., with two very different approaches. Paul, welcome to On the Media.
PAUL GOLDBERGER:
Thanks Bob.
BOB GARFIELD:
Before we talk about these new structures, let's get a sense of the classic newsroom.
PAUL GOLDBERGER:
Absolutely. There was the old linotypers. Actually, they were on the floor above, as I remember. Then the presses were down in the basement, way below. So the writers and porters were actually kind of a sandwich in the middle of the whole production.

And, of course, it was all paper too, because other than the telephone that was the only way any information was conveyed. And copy boys were called copy boys because they ran around with copies of things.
BOB GARFIELD:
It was a kind of assembly line.
PAUL GOLDBERGER:
It was an assembly line, because copy moved literally from your desk, if you were a reporter, to the editor who would first review it, to the copy desk that would review it for punctuation and comma and clarity and all that, up to the top editors who would review things again sort of for content, and then finally the piece of paper would be literally handed to a linotype operator who would set type for it.

The open newsroom served two purposes, first, to help speed up this flow of pieces of paper on this assembly line. It was also to allow the editors to see everybody and to allow everybody to see everybody else, this sense that the shared energy in the room would keep everybody moving quickly. So there was a kind of work ethic to the old newsroom, as well.
BOB GARFIELD:
Okay, so let’s fast forward to the new New York Times building. You said it has a tensile elegance, which got me to thinking about the [LAUGHS] Verrazano Narrows Bridge.
PAUL GOLDBERGER:
Right.
BOB GARFIELD:
What did you have in mind?
PAUL GOLDBERGER:
Well, the new New York Times building's actually quite a beautiful skyscraper. It’s very much at odds with the old image of a newspaper building, which was sort of tough and solid and hard and rough, almost. It's very refined. It's a metal and glass building with beautiful sort of screen-like facades that help filter out the bright sun.

The problem with it isn't the building itself. It's that once the time came to actually design the new newsroom inside this, The New York Times then kind of lost its nerve, in a strange way, and hired a very conventional architectural firm to do the interiors, a kind of dulled-down, slowed-down, big open space that loses the energy of the old newsroom, but doesn't join it to anything else.

And to me most troubling was there really isn't anything that tells you it's the digital age, other than this real silence through it all. You know, it's carpeted and, of course, there are no typewriters. There haven't been typewriters for 20-plus years now. But there's nothing to sort of make up for all of that stuff.
BOB GARFIELD:
Hmm. Okay well, let's move on to the Bloomberg building, which you say is a very different experience. Tell me about it.
PAUL GOLDBERGER:
Well, Bloomberg's space is probably the most exciting newsroom of our time. It's a big, lively, colorful, energetic space, but it's an energy of a digital age. It's got flat screens all over the place suspended from the ceiling. It's got constant information feeds on those flat screens. All the desks are sleek and white and tightly together.

The place also, by the way, has a lot of very interesting contemporary art, which isn't part of the newsgathering function but adds to this sense of it being of the moment. There's a huge central – they call it the piazza. It's a kind of open place to sit and talk, get a snack, run into people.

And you feel really that it has two parents, this space. One of them is the old newsroom, which, of course, it owes a debt to. The other is the trading floor. The Bloomberg newsroom kind of merges these two.
BOB GARFIELD:
So when I read your piece in The New Yorker, one of the thoughts that I couldn't get out of my head was that the newspaper business is in a tailspin, and most of the rest of the media industry, you know, pretty wobbly too, and here are these two august organizations [LAUGHS] in new digs that cost, you know, 35 quintrillion dollars each.
PAUL GOLDBERGER:
Mm-hmm.
BOB GARFIELD:
And I'm wondering what I'm supposed to make of that.
PAUL GOLDBERGER:
Well, the problem there is not extravagance so much as the lack of a clear idea of what to do. That's really what you feel at The New York Times. And the strange, quiet, elegant dullness of that newsroom does seem to me to embody the deer in the headlights.

Then you go to Bloomberg and you feel that this is a place that knows exactly what it wants and knows exactly how to make a place for itself in this new media age.
BOB GARFIELD:
Thank you very, very much.
PAUL GOLDBERGER:
Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD:
Paul Goldberger is the architecture critic for The New Yorker, where he writes the Skyline column. His most recent book is Up From Zero: Politics, Architecture and the Rebuilding of New York.