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COLUMN

Tech on the Web?

By John A. Hawkinson

In my July 9th column, because of an ombudseditting* error, The Tech’s news and features director was misdescribed as a “news ubereditor”--he is a “news übereditor.”

For those who care to watch the masthead, expect some changes after this issue. Effective tomorrow, Nathan Collins departs for Stanford, handing the editor-in-chief position to Christine Fry, Keith Winstein drops his überness (his überen?), and Tech veteran Jen Krishnan assumes the übermantle.

Tech Issues on the Web

A perennial complaint about The Tech is the timeliness of issues being placed on the Web. I fear that the concern has been so poorly handled in the past that no one even bothers to complain about it. It is accepted that The Tech is delinquent in this regard (taking days to weeks), and life goes on. This is not how it should be. But pessimism must not prevail! It is worth commending The Tech for getting Issue #29 on the Web less than 24 hours after publication. I hope this can continue.

Looking at the last volume (V122, Feb 2002 - Jan 2003) three issues seem to be missing from the Web: #14, #43, and #44. And even in the current volume, there’s work to be done; my own column on quoting electronic communication is missing from issue #27. That’s gotta be ironic. I fear to look back into 2001.

Of course, the root of the problem is that the process of putting issues on the Web is divorced from the process of producing issues, and there is very low accountability (staff away in the summer worsen this problem). The Tech’s management needs to make this a priority.

Breaking News on the Web

Years ago, The Tech used to maintain a section of the Web site for “breaking news” (generally about MIT). At present, The Tech’s news department appears to have decided that it is appropriate to focus on print journalism; Winstein worries about the resources necessary to maintain breaking news on the Web. That seems a reasonable concern, and such focusing should result in better print journalism--but is it legitimate?

At first it seemed sound to me, but now I am much less sure. In recent weeks, the Recording Industry Association of America has subpoenaed MIT and there has been various legal back-and-forth; I think many readers would have appreciated having real-time access to the legal documents via the Tech’s Web site, rather than on the personal Web site of the reporter covering the story (for those in the know), or waiting weeks for the Tech’s print publication (for those not). It seems a small step to move from publishing on a reporter’s site to publishing on the Tech’s site.

Handling of e-mail

The Tech’s handling of e-mail is confusing and often shoddy. The published addresses (see page 4) are not all clear in scope, and many inquiries go unanswered. A strong effort should be made to improve the situation.

As a reader, if you are uncertain where to send your message, please feel free to address it to ombudsman@the-tech.mit.edu, or to carbon copy me on your correspondence. To try to clarify (“@tt” is short for “@the-tech.mit.edu”):

* letters@tt goes to the opinion editors’ mailbox, as well to the Ombudsman. The opinion editors are responsible for forwarding appropriate correspondence to other parts of the paper. It has an informal historical archive, accessible by the opinion editors. This is the right place to send letters you would like to be printed.

* general@tt reaches the executive board of the Tech: the chairman, the editor-in-chief, the executive editor, the business manager, and the managing editor. It has no archive.

* news@tt reaches the news and features director, who is responsible for forwarding appropriate items on to more eyes within the news department. At my instigation, it now has a formal archive, visible to staff of the paper. This is the place to send “press releases, requests for coverage, and information about errors that call for correction.”

I think news@tt is relatively well handled, though I do have concerns that the news and features director is in a position to make judgements about what does and does not deserve to be brought before the news editors and news writers, and may have an overstrong bias in the news selection process. This is alleviated some by the archive.

I think letters@tt is acceptably handled, though it would benefit from a formal archive visible to the staff of the paper.

I’m very concerned about general@tt; when I’ve sent mail there, or been copied on such mail, the response rate has been very low. On Monday night I discussed these issues with the Tech’s chairman, and she expressed frustration at her inability to marshall the forces within the executive board, and at how many of the issues were not ones she could solve personally.

A formal archive of general@tt is needed, visible to members of the executive board (at a minimum). That will allow them to confirm that messages have been answered, especially historically. At present, if an inquiry were to arrive to general@tt asserting that mail was sent to general@tt six or twelve months previous, it would be very hard for the truth of that to be determined. My quiet requests for an archive got no direct reply, though the excuse that the list is used for internal deliberations has been offered; this does not satisfy, they may create another list for such internal deliberations, if necessary.

There are similar problems with other Tech mailing lists. To highlight one egregious example, e-mail regarding articles on the Web site is directed to archive@tt (generally reprint permissions and problems with the web site). Looking back at the formal archive, I can find 13 messages unanswered since April.

The executive board needs to step up to the plate and ensure that these problems are addressed and do not continue. Where individual members of the executive board feel ineffective, they need to raise the issues before the Tech’s larger governing body, the managing board. (The managing board consists of all editors across all departments, and appoints the executive board.)

* Since my column is edited only with my permission, I take full responsibility for this error.

The Ombudsman welcomes your feedback, to o@tt.mit.edu. His opinions are his own.