Coincidence or not, Times' Styles adds tech touch

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New York Times Styles section. (New York Times website)
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Jeremy Barr

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In recent weeks the New York Times Styles section has brought on one-time Times tech blogger Nick Bilton and Wall Street Journal digital culture reporter Katie Rosman.

Though the hires may have seemed indicative of a shift, possibly an acknowledgment of the new bourgeois bases of Silicon Valley and Alley, Styles editor Stuart Emmrich told Capital this week that the moves were mostly coincidental.

"I think the timing of it seems to give too much weight to both of those hires," Emmrich told Capital.

In Rosman's case, Emmrich said that her background as a tech writer was almost irrelevant, but a nice benefit. Emmrich said that he twice approached her about a job at the Times and was turned down. This being Styles, it seems appropriate that the third time was the charm.

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As for Bilton, who previously covered the business of technology, and wrote a book about the founding of Twitter, Emmrich said: "When Nick Bilton comes to you and says he wants to write a column for you, the answer is 'yes.'"

As tech continues to infiltrate the most mundane corners of contemporary life, the additions would make sense at Styles, long known for its cultural reportage and, yes, trend pieces that occasionally induce eye rolls in certain corners of the media establishment. An early-March piece about the reemergence of monocles in some quarters of New York that led many to question whether the Times had really spotted a trend comes to mind.

But that's beside the point, Emmrich said.

"There's a knee-jerk reaction to a Styles piece by saying we're trying to identify or create a trend," he said. "Five people doing something interesting might be worth writing about, even if 500 people aren't doing it."

Emmrich said his priority is hiring columnists who can write and report. (He cited John Koblin, who came to Styles this year from the Gawker Media's sports site Deadspin, as a journalist who has acclimated to the beat.)

In a phone conversation Tuesday, Bilton talked of a shift in reader interest from the way technology works (What's in your iPad? How do computers work?) to how it affects everyday life that informed his move to Styles.

"It was a really interesting opportunity to look at the impact of technology," he said. "It seemed like a perfectly great fit."

Bilton's first Styles column, published online July 9, was personal. He wrote about the difficulty of getting out from the online shadow of a failed marriage. It was emblematic of what's to come, he said.

"There's many ways that tech is changing everything," he said.