Monday, July 28, 2008

“the building would literally shake when the presses went on…we really felt like we were creating the news.”

Here’s a fun fact for you: Times Square, known as Long Acres Square in the 1800s, was actually named after the New York Times. The gesture was a nominal “thank you for moving to a previously-vacant, now-bustling area of the city” when the prestigious paper relocated in the early 20th century.

Pennington imparted this tidbit as we went about our aforementioned tour (see previous post) of the brand new facilities. Still located in the heart of its namesake (a touristy, neon-lit embodiment of chaos), the year-old Times building is as impressive as the paper itself.

The modernistic building, seemingly made of nothing but steel, bright white paint, and air, is a lifetime away from the paper’s overcrowded abode of old.

“The old building was a classic newsroom, dusty and smoky with low ceilings,” says Pennington. “There were no big T.V screens and there wasn’t Internet connection everywhere. We really needed more space.”

As dumpy as the prototypical 1920s-ish newsroom sounds, Pennington says that the close quarters were conducive to the constant communication necessary at a newspaper. For example, in a room where people are practically sitting on each other’s laps, one editor may overhear changes being made via phone by another editor and put the corresponding edits right onto the page. This is no longer possible in the spacious new building.

“You could throw a football back and forth on the sports floor, whereas in the old building the sports section was the size of a large huddle,” Pennington explains, unable to curb an inevitable dose of athletic imagery.

However, the new building’s spacious atmosphere does not prevent the paper from doing its job. Yes, the office may echo at times, but the openness purposely facilitates inter-section communication.

Though most newspapers are strictly segmented into sections (again, see previous post), Pennington philosophizes that “the paper is a whole, and the office is laid-out in a similarly continuous way.”

One extremely charming, albeit noisy, aspect of the old Times building was the existence of the printing press in the basement. Though the paper has been outsourcing its printing for years now, Pennington recalls the daily rumbling with nostalgia.

“The building would literally shake when the presses went on,” he remembers. “News was being generated beneath us. We really felt like we were creating the news and changing the world’s view of things.”

Since Pennington doesn’t officially have a desk at the office, our nomadic tour is peppered with stops at random flat surfaces on which I lean to jot down notes. Pennington assures me that he could have a workspace – you know, if he really wanted one – but most of the desks belong to city-dwellers who actually find the locale convenient.

Because most writers work from home or on-site, simply submitting stories from their laptops with the click of a button, I presume it would be unnecessary to clutter the office with tons of empty desks.

Which, at 1 p.m. on a Thursday, is pretty much how I’d describe the office: empty. “At night the office will be full and frenetic,” Pennington says, adding that the kinetic peak actually occurs around midnight.

There is something so impressively noble in the image of editors sprinting around in the dead of night, ensuring that millions of clear blue packages land on the doorsteps of the world the very next morning.

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