Finally, how is the smoking surcharge enforced? What if I’ve polluted my lungs and bloodstream with Marlboros for 30 years but quit smoking the day before I sign up for a plan? Am I a non-smoker? What if I say I quit but didn’t? Or what if I go back to the habit a month after signing up?
2. Understanding anonymity at the Economist:
I used to think that people subscribed to the Economist so that they could have it on their coffee tables to impress friends. My assumption was that because I didn’t read my copies too avidly, they never really read them either.
But several months ago, I was on an airport runway and had to turn off my electronics, leaving me with only the magazine to read. As the takeoff got delayed I found myself diving into article after article, and I was stunned by how intelligent and original the Economist is on subjects I’ve already read about (e-cigarettes or Germany’s election, in the last issue) or subjects I didn’t think I cared about (“Water and Agriculture in Kansas”).
With my new loyalty to the Economist in mind, here’s what interests me most about the publication that I would like to see a story about: the Economist has no bylines. In fact, there’s not even a masthead to tell me who the editor or editors are who deserve the credit for all this smart stuff. (Such anonymity was more common when the Economist was founded in 1843.)
A Google search will quickly tell you that the editor is John Micklethwait, and the Economist’s website does list its editorial staff, with mini-bios. But for most journalists, let alone journalists who produce such world-class stuff, that usually isn’t enough. They — well, we — like our bylines. We don’t like to labor anonymously. Some even enjoy going on television to talk about what they’ve written.
So how does the Economist attract such extraordinary but apparently ego-less talent? What does that talent say about the sacrifices, or rewards, of hitting home runs every week with no one in the ballpark cheering them on? And has the Economist done any research on what readers think of reading stories with no names attached?
3. Behind the big-city bike-sharing business:
New York City’s bike-sharing program, Citi Bike, which was launched last spring, seems like it’s already a big success. It also seems to be a logistical tour de force, enabled by amazing software that predicts and tracks usage in order to get the thousands of bikes positioned at the right docking stations around town so that they can be shared efficiently and conveniently.
NetJets, the fractional private aircraft ownership company, was considered a logistics and software marvel soon after it began operations about 27 years ago. But it has 650 jets, while Citi Bike already has 6,000 bicycles in its fleet, with more on the way.
Similar systems are operating in cities around the world, from Paris, to London, to Denver to Washington, DC, to Minneapolis.
So how does it all work? What’s the financial model in New York and elsewhere? Is this a for-profit service? If so, who are the investors that stand to win or lose? Is Citibank just paying to have its name emblazoned on the fleet, or is it a financial participant?
I’ve seen trucks in New York hauling bikes from overstocked docking areas on city streets to those that need bikes (presumably the equivalent of a NetJet flying to an airport without passengers). How is all of that monitored and minimized? How is the program adjusted based on tracking data related to where and when the bikes are being used?
What have been the biggest surprises and challenges so far in New York? Have taxi or subway revenues been affected?
And what are the differences between New York’s program and some of the others?
All grist for a bunch of good stories.