Arthur Sulzberger, the conscientious family boss of the New York Times, was asked the other day what was the biggest mistake that brought down newspapers. One stood out, he said: not hiring enough engineers.
It’s not so daft an answer: Sulzberger meant that newspapers hampered their entry into the digital era by distributing their material through software engineered by newly-minted companies like Google. The new publishing system for news wasn’t shaped in the interests of the people who report the news and couldn’t capture the advertising revenue to pay for that reporting. But this diagnosis of what happened is wrong – and a revealing mistake.
“It is the imagination, ultimately, and not mathematical calculation that creates media; it is the fresh perception of how to fit a potential machine into an actual way of life that really constitutes the act of ‘invention’.”