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The Ombudsman

John A. Hawkinson

My take on last week’s news

I’m not satisfied with last week’s news. Of the three stories, none of them told us anything new about MIT. Frank Dabek covered the Cambridge mayoral election well, but the other two stories felt very rough; they were follow-ups to earlier stories, and seemed to lack depth. Even over winter break, there were plenty of stories to research and track down.

I think the principal reason for the lack of depth is that the stories were assigned on the evening of Monday, Jan. 5, so had to be written in one day. With that little time for research, it’s a tribute to the writers that the stories came out as well as they did.

As I mentioned in my Dec. 5 column on the news assignment process, the news department needs to assign stories a lot further out, and give reporters plenty of time to work on them. This seems to require strong, active management on the part of the news director. On the plus side, it’s improving already; eight news stories were assigned last week prior to this week’s news meeting, and at the meeting, four were assigned for next week’s issue.

Mail to letters@the-tech

There’s been little beyond what’s been printed in the letters section:

* an item of negative feedback on the explicit nature of the “Sex and the Saferide” column (not printed because a similar letter had already been printed, according to the opinion editor);

* a response to the Nov. 21 complaint about the Virgin Mobile ad [“Offensive Advertising”]; the response argued that the gender of the almost-naked person in the ad was ambiguous (I don’t know why we didn’t print it);

* a blind carbon-copy of a letter to The New York Times from an ’03 alumnus criticizing Kate Zernike’s Dec. 5 Times article for claiming Vest “dealt” with “drinking and mental health” on campus; the letter argued that Vest’s solution “was to curtail one of the best aspects of MIT,” viz. the FSILG system (The Tech reprinted Zernike’s Dec. 7 New York Times article, which contained a similar but differently worded statement about Vest and “dealing with student drinking”).

Send comments to letters@the-tech if you want them to be printed, or send them to me if you want me to research a response for you.

What happened to the Web?

At the start of last term, issues were on the Web within a day or two of publication; by the end of term, it was more like a week. Issue 59 (Nov. 25) isn’t done yet, and Issue 60 (Dec. 2) took over a week.

On the bright side, in response to some lobbying on my part, Issue 63 (Jan. 7) was available in PDF format the next day, even though it wasn’t available in HTML until Jan. 10. Issue 59 is available only in PDF now, since there’s some problem with the HTML conversion.

Why does it take so long? The process by which The Tech is converted from Quark XPress to HTML is painful and arduous, involving manual effort. While there is some automation, it typically fails for sundry reasons, some easily fixable and some not.

Is there interest in seeing more PDFs? Let me know, please; e-mail

And then there’s the opinion section

The only thing in last week’s opinion section was an editorial; there was nothing on page five because no content was submitted. It doesn’t seem like the opinion editor is very successful at getting opinion columns in early, having a stash of columns, or producing columns with compelling arguments that convince me.

Looking at the editorial, I’m really unimpressed. Titled “MIT Alum for President,” it spends one paragraph mentioning the advantages of an alumnus, and then two or three watering down its thesis, with quotes like “alum status is not a prerequisite for improving student life,” and “alum status might be wholly unimportant to an equally pressing concern.” The editorial feels all-over-the-map and incoherent.

The Tech’s Ombudsman welcomes your feedback, to His opinions are his own.