On September 16, MIT's News Office will publish the final issue of Tech Talk. Today, we launch a new daily website, MIT News.
The closing of any publication will sadden some of its readers. Tech Talk will be missed by those who remember how, for more than a half-century, it was MIT's community newspaper, reliably informing faculty, staff, and students about weekly events at the Institute. But we believe we can better inform our community using web, video, mobile, and social technologies, and that those media will allow us to do entirely new things, too: they'll offer groups around campus a way to communicate directly with each other, and provide the News Office the means to write for the general public about MIT.
Those who visit MIT News at /newsoffice/ will see a site that fulfills the old mission of Tech Talk: to bring together the MIT community with news of life on campus. But they will also see a site that will invite readers outside of MIT to better understand the Institute. Every day, readers inside and outside MIT will find three news stories about the Institute's research, innovations, and teaching, written by the News Office to appeal to the widest audience interested in science and technology. This approach — in which a university speaks directly to the public — will be an innovation unique to MIT. It is a response to the declining investment by newspaper and magazine publishers in science and technology journalism. We believe that if the world is to know how MIT is working to solve the globe's pressing problems and answer the most absorbing questions in science, the Institute must tell its own story using electronic media.
To the immediate right of the day's top stories will be a video, "Sixty Seconds at MIT," that will bring out the life of the Institute in small, daily doses: a member of the faculty talking about her latest discovery, a robot that must be seen to be believed, a visiting dignitary talking about the future of the planet. We will create many of these videos ourselves, but we will also draw heavily upon content at TechTV, MITWorld, and elsewhere; and we encourage members of the community to submit short videos that capture what is like to be part of MIT.
Beneath the top stories and the daily video will be "Institute Announcements" from the administration. Beneath these elements is "Around Campus," which focuses on the MIT community directly. "Of Note" will spotlight an event or activity on campus that deserves promotion. To the immediate right is "Campus News," where selected faculty, staff, and students can submit news that will be edited, then posted, by the News Office staff. We hope this inclusive feature will better allow the community to speak to itself. Another part of "Around Campus" will be a daily link to an MIT web site that we find curious, elegant, or new. Finally, MIT News will highlight the Institute's shared calendar.
Readers of MIT News will be able to comment on some stories, and soon we will host forums where our community will be able to propose subjects for discussion. Other upcoming developments will include an iPhone application and a smart-phone version of the site, and a web page that better aggregates and organizes all the Institute's videos.
These changes were made after much research and thought. We learned a lot from an Institute-wide communications survey conducted two years ago, which revealed that only 17 percent of staff and 18 percent of faculty depended on Tech Talk to stay informed about MIT. Worse, thousands of copies of the paper distributed around campus each week sat where they had been delivered. While we know that the publication had a number of careful, regular readers, we believe that our resources are better spent providing a first-rate community web site. Our inclination was supported by the survey data: when asked which medium they would most like to see improved, half of the staff and 60 percent of the faculty said they would like an expanded MIT web site.
We also talked to many of you individually. Over an eight-month period, the News Office staff worked with the Office of the President and interviewed the provost, chancellor, associate provosts, deans, heads of labs, faculty, MIT communicators and staff, and students. To a large degree, the design and functions of MIT News represent what you requested.
These changes have allowed us to cut the News Office budget by 11 percent. What's more, they accord with the commonly expressed wish to reduce the costs associated with the use of paper: When the Institute-Wide Planning Task Force (a broad, inclusive body charged with finding creative, beneficial ways to reduce expenses) solicited ideas from the MIT community at large, nearly half all remarks about administrative processes signaled a desire to reduce paper use.
We recognize that not everyone within our community will want a purely electronic publication. To address that concern, we will soon begin publishing a weekly e-mail newsletter that users can easily print.
All new web sites are (or should be) beta software. Their launches are collaborations, their development iterative. Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me what you think, or, if you are reading this on the new MIT News, comment below.
Jason Pontin, MIT Director of Communications