MIT is in the process of combining the assets, functions, and personnel of the MIT News Office and Technology Review magazine in order to cut spending and run communications more effectively.
Jason Pontin, TR’s editor in chief and the new Director of Communications for MIT, stressed that the combination of assets “was not a merger.” He said that Technology Review and the News Office retain their separate governances and that TR is still independent, and remains beholden to its Board of Directors.
The News Office, which has historically been MIT’s external communication arm, publishes Tech Talk, issues news releases, and assists members of the MIT community in dealing with the press. Technology Review is a mainstream technology magazine published by Technology Review, Inc., a 501(c)3 charity and subsidiary of MIT. The mission of the TR is to analyze the greater impact of new and emerging technologies.
On Jan. 15, Vice President for Institute Affairs Kirk D. Kolenbrander announced a “reorganization of Institute Communications.” In a letter to the MIT community on Feb. 19, President Susan Joan Hockfield said the changes would bring “substantial savings and more effective ways of bringing MIT’s story to the world.”
Concerns had been raised that Technology Review’s journalistic independence from the Institute might be compromised by having Pontin simultaneously direct the magazine as well as the News Office. Kolenbrander said that TR still has full editorial independence and can publish anything that its board decides to publish.
As communications director, Pontin is collecting information in order to plan how MIT’s communication functions will be reformed, and is still thinking through how the News Office should be run and how it should handle communications for the Institute.
“Honest to god, I’m just wandering around the campus, meeting with every dean, every school, and the senior administration,” Pontin said in a telephone interview from an airport in Munich.
Pontin believes this restructuring is attractive because it eliminates redundancy and saves resources. These plans include more direct communication with the outside world, including through the leveraging of TR’s web development staff to improve the News Office’s website, as well as restructuring the web.mit.edu top-level, which is a “seven-year old design.”
Pontin remains “committed to the retention of the basic spotlight feel” of web.mit.edu, saying they will “absolutely continue” to highlight campus events and offer the opportunity for the MIT community to contribute imagery.
Pontin said that MIT “need[s] a much-better MIT news website. Possibly several. One for press, one for community, one for the wider world.” A future website may include social networking functions, Pontin said. Pontin also expects to add a “News from MIT” section to TR’s web page, which reaches 650,000 people.
Pamela Dumas Serfes was director of the News Office from December 2005 through January 2009, but as of this restructuring, she no longer retains a role. Neither Kolenbrander nor Pontin were willing to explain her new role, though Pontin said “she still has a desk; she continues to receive a salary.” Kolenbrander would not say what Dumas Serfes’ current position or role was, but he did say that she was no longer “Executive Director of News and Communications,” the title that appears for her in MIT’s online personnel directory. Dumas Serfes herself declined to comment.
Staff are now being shared between the two organizations, the News Office and the magazine. Pontin suggested the News Office could make use of TR’s editorial staff, noting that currently MIT spokesperson Greg Frost is forced to copyedit his own press releases.
TR’s management team consists of Nathaniel W. Nickerson, Deputy Editor of Technology Review; David Foucher, Vice President for Technology Review Online, who manages TR’s web development staff; and James E. Coyle, Chief Operating Officer of Technology Review, who will also serve as an operations manager for the News Office.