Wednesday, April 20, 2011

So different, yet so alike

I ran into an administrator for the Knight Fellows program tonight at a book signing party for Steven Levy. We shared notes about the parallels between journalists and engineers and it reminded me that I had once put together this handy comparison chart describing Google and the San Jose Mercury News when I made the leap from the latter to the former in 1999. While the differences were great, there were some surprising similarities.


The Mercury News (1999) Google (1999)
>150 years as a profitable operation <1 year as a non-profitable operation
Thousands of empoyees, many with more than 50 years of service Tens of employees, most with fewer than 3 months of service
Well-defined roles, with 7 unions to enforce them No defined roles and strange looks if you ask about them
Key decisions made around an imposing boardroom table by a committee with the publisher presiding Key decisions made in the cafeteria line while a founder is loading his plate with baked organic tofu
All new products based on P&L projections for five years out Most new products based on an engineer developing something Larry or Sergey thinks is cool
Products not released until perfect - this is the first draft of history and the newspaper cannot appear fallible Products released as soon as they're checked for security and stability. We'll let users tell us what needs to be fixed
Smart, articulate journalists, who know what people really need, even if they don't Smart, articulate engineers, who know what people really need, even if they don't
No tolerance for marketing, which is an unfortunate necessity, but taints the journalistic mission No tolerance for marketing, which is an unfortunate necessity, but taints the engineering mission

3 comments:

Dmitry said...

Things have changed quite a bit since '99. The differences are much less pronounced nowadays. Anyway, I've been reading your blog since its inception, and I think I recall a similar table somewhere at the beginning of it.

Doug said...

Dmitry... Thanks for being such a long time reader. I did post this early on, but took it down when I thought I might include it in my book. Didn't make the final cut, so I reposted it. I'm curious about how things have changed. I still see newspapers struggling with new technology, though those that have survived must have improved their decision-making processes.

paulmartin42 said...

And what's wrong with recycling ..