Earlier this afternoon, my friend Jason sent three other photojournalism students and me a link to a YouTube video. Normally I try to ignore random YouTube links my friends send me, but I clicked on it and saw, much to my surprise, a 1981 news broadcast story about how under a dozen newspapers — specifically The San Francisco Examiner — were starting to place content on-line.
I’ve transcribed the video, which is two minutes and 17 seconds, below. Emphasis (italicized and underlined) is mine.
Anchor: Imagine, if you will, sitting down with your morning coffee, turning on your home computer to read the day’s newspaper. Well, it’s not as far-fetched as it may seem. In fact, both local San Francisco papers are investing a lot of money to try to get a service just like that started. Science editor Steve Newman reports on one person already using the brand-new system.
Steve Newman, reporter: Seventeen stories up in his fashionable (unclear audio here) apartment, Richard Halloran is calling a local number that will connect him with a computer in Columbus, Ohio. Meanwhile, across town in this less-than-fashionable cubicle at the San Francisco Examiner, these editors are programming today’s copy of the paper into that same Ohio computer. As the telephone connection between these two terminals is made, the newest form of electronic journalism lights up Mr. Hallaway’s television with just about everything the Examiner prints in its regular edition. That is, with exception of ads, pictures and the comics. Eight newspapers around the country are currently in the computer network, and within the next few weeks, three others will join in.
David Cole, S.F. Examiner: “This is an experiment. We’re trying to figure out what it’s going to mean to us as editors and reporters, and what it means to the home user. And we’re not in it to make money. We’re probably not going to lose a lot, but we aren’t going to make much either.”
Steve Newman, reporter: Both the Examiner and the Chronicle began service within the last two weeks. They printed full-page ads about it. Of the estimated 2-3,000 home computer owners in the Bay area, the Chronicle reports over 500 have responded by sending back coupons. Although the electronic newspaper isn’t as spiffy-looking as the ads imply, people using the system are excited about its potential.
Richard Halloran, interviewee: “With the system, we have the option of not only seeing the newspaper on the screen, but also optionally, we can copy it. So anything we’re interested in, we can go back in again and copy it on paper and save it. Which I think is the future of the type of integration the individual can do to the newspapers.”
Steve Newman, reporter: This is only the first step in newspapers by computer. Engineers now predict the day will come when we get all our newspapers and magazines by home computer. But that’s a few years off. So for the moment at least, this fellow isn’t worried about being out of a job. Steve Newman, news editor 4.
Anchor: It takes over two hours to receive the entire text of a newspaper over the phone, and with an hourly use charge of $5, the new telepaper won’t be much competition for the 20-cent street edition.
My first thought: “HOLY CRAP.”
My second thought: “How far things have come.”
I’m not familiar enough with the development/spread of the Internet (what little I know is from the first chapter of Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat) and the advent of online journalism to ask any in-depth questions or produce any educated speculation. But I do know that the Internet has irrevocably changed the face of journalism, in terms of content, coverage, distribution, presentation, format, readership levels, advertising, revenue and market.
Of course I tweeted this YouTube story, with the following message attached: “OHMYGOD. A 1981 TV report about how some enterprising newspprs started putting content online. We’ve come so far.”
I’ve since received the following replies:
- @adamhemphill — I could go back and forth about the thought that “we’ve come so far.” It’s difficult to make a comparison at this point.
- @jefflphoto — “We’re not in it to make money…” — If only they’d had the goal of making money with electronic journalism from the start!
I have no more to say about this, other than that it’s strange to see a broadcast story about the advent of an industry shift that we’ve all taken for granted.