THERE WAS A TOUCH OF WINTER in the air this morning as New York awoke to the first day of the On Demand Conference at the Javits Center. Snow is in the offing and we can only hope the predicted storm tracks offshore and we dodge the 6 to 8 inches of spring snow and slush that’s supposed to be on the ground by sometime this evening or tomorrow morning.
The highlight this gray morning was the 24th Annual Isaiah Thomas Award in Publishing. Sponsored by Xerox in conjunction with the School of Printing at Rochester Institute of Technology, the award went to Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr., Chairman and Publisher, The New York Times Company.
In her remarks in presenting the award, Ursula M. Burns, President, Business Group Operations at Xerox, recounted how Isaiah Thomas, a compatriot of Paul Revere and John Hancock was an influential publisher before, during and after the American Revolution. Thomas began apprenticing as a printer at the age of six and eventually came to own several newspapers, paper mills, print shops, binderies and book stores. He was man who truly seemed to have, as the old saying goes, “ink in his veins.” Thomas was on a perpetual mission to create, produce and disseminate information and knowledge using all the media of his time, which is why the award has been given is his name for nearly a quarter century.
“The technology he used at the age of six was the same technology he used when he was eighty years old,” noted Burns. “Isaiah Thomas would be dumbstruck by the technology on display here at On Demand, but not by the thinking. Content creation merging with content production and distribution are things he would have understood instantly.”
In accepting the award, Sulzberger talked for about 25 minutes, relating how the New York Times is relentlessly focused on continually providing its readers with superior journalism in print, on the Web, on television or any combination of media.
“We’ll be in print as long as people want us to be in print,” he proclaimed. “We are a news organization and we’ll be in whatever media our customers need.” He noted that when the Time first offered its Web pages at www.nytimes.com there was concern about the virtual version of the paper--where news can easily appear first--would cause the Times to “scoop itself.” We quickly decided the media didn’t matter and that when news appeared under our name it was in fact, “in the Times.”
Sulzberger noted that regardless of media, the New York Times has a focus on delivering the information its readers need to see, crediting Times readers with an innate curiosity about the world around them and a need for education and the acquisition of knowledge. “There are things in the paper you need to see and others that you don’t know you need to see.” That’s what provides knowledge, and knowledge is power. He gave an analogy, courtesy of his teenage daughter, to describe the relationship between power and knowledge. “Knowledge is knowing Madonna’s phone number. Power is knowing when to call.”
In the years, ahead, said Sulzberger, the intersection of print, Web and video is going to be critical. “Each media has its own assets that can be maximized.” As the Times looks to this future, the company sees its tradition of quality journalism as the foundation, with print, Web and television each filling specific roles in delivering information, knowledge and power. His message was in tune with that of many vendors here at On Demand, who are emphasizing workflows that take data in numerous forms and serve it to digital print engines, Web sites and archive it for any number of future needs. The New York Times, with the vision of Sulzberger, is clearly on a path where it sees information as its stock and trade and is focused on being the world leader in effective and efficient distribution of that information--and the knowledge and power it provides.