The Globe and Civic recently announced a partnership funded by the Knight Foundation. Yesterday, at the invitation of GlobeLab director Chris Marstall, I visited the headquarters of my home town newspaper for the first time.
I was accompanied on my visit by a group of reporters from The Tech, MIT’s student newspaper. The Tech, led by senior Joanna Kao, is working to build a data journalism team, and Chris offered to introduce her to folks at the Globe who are working in this space.
We visited the Globe Lab, sat in on a page one meeting, and talked with people from the interaction team. It was all very interesting and informative. But for me, the most mindboggling part of the trip was touring the presses.
Printing presses are enormous machines. They confront you at once with their enormity and their mechanicalness. Men in ink-stained white jumpsuits clambered around and inside the presses, cleaning and unclogging and rewiring them throughout our walk.
See those rolls of paper? Not only are they so large that the Globe had robotic carts to move them around, they are so large that, until last year, they were delivered by train. The Globe has its own private train station within its headquarters just to deliver the paper for print.
I remarked, as we walked through surrounded by these giant machines and tiny people, that I felt like I was in a manufacturing plant or factory. To which Marstall responded that I was. In fact, according to Marstall, the Globe’s headquarters are the second largest factory in Boston, behind the Gillette plant.
For a digital native such as myself, walking around a newspaper factory is an illuminating experience. I now intuitively understand why some people refer to “traditional” or “print” journalism as “industrial” journalism. The capital invested in a factory of this kind is incredible.
Of course, the Internet has its own industrial infrastructure. The wires which connect rural houses were laid through massive federal projects. The undersea cables are deployed by transoceanic trawlers. Small ISPs have their own power generators; large ISPs have their own power plants.
But, as has become banal to observe, the Internet is a platform. The industrial infrastructure is invisible to its users. In this way, we are like readers of a newspaper, blissfully blind to all of that which produces it. But unlike newspapers, we can produce and share and communicate across it as well, astride the backs of buried, bit-moving beasts.