Wednesday, November 28, 2007

What's in your lobby?

This morning's news planning meeting prompted an interesting exchange. Ben Cunningham was discussing a recent story on the public radio program On the Media. The segment was on the artwork displayed in the lobby of the new New York Times offices.
The display is called "Movable Type." Here's how the Times described it in an Oct. 25 story:
Since The Times moved in June from its longtime home on West 43rd Street in Manhattan to its new, almost completed tower designed by Renzo Piano on Eighth Avenue between 40th and 41st Streets, two men — an artist, Ben Rubin, and a statistician, Mark Hansen — have all but taken up residence in the building’s cavernous lobby, huddled most days around laptops and coffee cups on a folding table. Flanking them on two high walls are 560 small screens, 280 a wall, suspended in a grid pattern that looks at first glance like some kind of minimalist sculpture.
But then the screens, simple vacuum fluorescent displays of the kind used in alarm clocks and cash registers, come to life, spewing out along the walls streams of orphaned sentences and phrases that have appeared in The Times or, in many cases, that are appearing on the paper’s Web site at that instant.
They are fished from The Times databases by computerized algorithms that Mr. Rubin and Mr. Hansen have designed that parse the paper in strange ways, selecting, for example, only sentences from quotations that start with "you" or "I." Or sentences ending in question marks. Or just the first, tightly choreographed sentences of obituaries.
The content of the permanent installation, called "Moveable Type," is drawn not only from the words that The Times reports but also, in real time, from the search terms and Web commentary pouring in from thousands of readers around the world, capturing what Mr. Rubin called "both the push and the pull" of the newspaper.

The Star's lobby (shown above) employs much the same premise with its engraved quotations, though the type isn't quite as "movable."