If you are the editor of a weekly newspaper and hope to write a personal opinion column every week (or so), it’s a nice feeling to walk out of the office on a Friday night and know that you already have the subject of your next column firmly in mind.
Not that you have actually written it, of course, that will come later, sandwiched among the myriad other details that will claim your attention both over the weekend and during the Monday and Tuesday as you put the entire editorial production into final form for its trip to the printing plant.
But at least you have the idea in mind. That’s how I felt walking out of here last Friday, knowing that I had a column in mind about the trend in commercial real estate away from cubicles and corner offices and toward flexible, free form spaces, where workers can cluster if they want, work in isolation if they prefer, or — in everyone’s dreams — roll out a ping pong table and begin to play. The subject has been on my mind and — better yet — in the news. The New York Times just did a feature on Google’s hip office space in the Chelsea section of Manhattan.
What made the idea and the moment even sweeter was that I was leaving the office early to go to the grand opening of just such an office in Princeton, the new home of Tigerlabs, the incubator of high tech start-ups conceived as a university town’s answer to Silicon Valley of the West Coast and the converted lofts of midtown Manhattan (U.S. 1, March 6).
I arrived at the opening bell and got a moment to chat with Bert Navarrete, the cover subject of Michele Alperin’s definitive story and the man on the skateboard in the cover photo. No, I was told, Navarrete would not be moving around on skateboard during the party, at least not at the outset.
A few minutes later I saw the name tag of a young man I had never seen before. The name was Moo Kim, and I immediately recognized it as the credit line that went with the photo of the Tigerlab director on the skateboard. Without identifying myself I asked Kim if he had taken the photo and if he would mind answering a question. We went over to the bulletin board where the U.S. 1 cover was prominently displayed. Having taken such an elegant photo of Navarrete, did the photographer mind that the newspaper had inserted two snapshots into either side of the composition, to make the point that the new incubator is located between a workingman’s bar and a coffee shop?
No, Kim replied, he did not mind. He had worked in journalism himself and understood the contrivances sometimes needed to tell the story. Moreover he told me cheerfully (after I had confessed that I was the one who altered his cover composition), he was there not as a photographer but as an entrepreneur, working on a startup that is hoping to put interactive video to some profitable use.
The place was rife with entrepreneurs. A few weeks before the Tigerlabs opening a freelance writer had submitted an article about a panel discussion of entrepreneurs at the Princeton Public Library. The article didn’t quite fit our editorial needs, but one of the entrepreneurs seemed worthy of coverage at some point in the near future. I met the entrepreneur at the Tigerlabs opening. Yes, he said, the freelancer had been in touch.
The coffee shop next to Tigerlabs is the Nassau Street branch of Small World Coffee, and Tigerlabs is certainly a small world of entrepreneurs and people who work with them. The architect and builder who designed and then fitted out the second story space at 252 Nassau Street turn out to be the owners of a six-unit condominium conversation taking place right next door to my house.
While I was chatting with Steve and Jon DeRochi, Congressman Rush Holt walked into the room. “Do you know Rush Holt?” the architect asked. Not really, I answered, but I have met him briefly on a few public occasions.
At that point Holt and his wife moved in the direction of our group. The congressman broke into a big smile, stretched out his hand, and looked me in the eye: “Hi Rich, great to see you, and thank you so much for the article on TigerLabs. We need that kind of coverage.”
Maybe Holt, whose name has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the Senate seat being vacated by Frank Lautenberg, is ramping up his political ground game, and he had a handler prepping him on people he might meet at the opening. Or maybe the former Princeton Plasma Physics Lab scientist is just good with names.
Either way, all politics are local. Just 24 hours before his appearance at the TigerLabs opening, Holt was making a similar point on the national stage, the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC. The congressman called for increased investment in research and development to tackle complex issues such as climate change.
“We’re not a poor, impoverished nation; we’re just acting like one,” Holt told Maddow and her audience. “We should be investing as if we believe there will be a future for us. We should be investing in education and infrastructure and research and development and particularly to deal with those problems that are staring us in the face.”
Hearing the message on national television is one thing; hearing it again in person, among friends and acquaintances who share a connection through their physical community is something else. I decided to put the column about the office design on hold, and do another one instead. Before you agonize over how to arrange your office, first where you are going to locate it. Community counts. Big time. And if you are in the distribution area of this newspaper, you should know you are in a pretty good place.