The future of news in 1981, and now

“Imagine, if you will, sitting down to your coffee, turning on your home computer to read the day’s newspaper. Well it’s not as far-fetched as it may seem.”

I came across this gem of a video back in January, when one of my favorite local blogs, Fragmentary Evidence (which, if you guys aren’t reading, you need to start, cause it’s awesome) posted it. It’s a San Francisco TV news segment from 1981 about online newspaper delivery, and I found it absolutely fascinating.


It’s hard not to feel a little bit vindicated at the triumph of technology when watching the anchor’s smirk at the end of the segment as she smugly predicts “the new telepaper won’t be much competition for the 20 cent street edition,” but the satisfaction only lasts about a second until you remember that newspapers around the country are closing or threatening to close left and right, and then you just get all depressed.

I haven’t written here about the crisis in the newspaper industry, since it isn’t an Oakland-specific issue, but it’s a matter of much interest and concern to me. I complain plenty about poor Oakland coverage in the local media, but I do it because I want the reporting to be better, not because I want it to go away. I don’t know that I have anything particularly insightful to say on the subject, but I did very much enjoy posts on the issue this week from two other local bloggers, Dave Winer and Scott Rosenberg, so if you’re interested, I highly recommend reading those. The best thing I’ve read recently on the subject comes from farther afield, the text of a speech my celebrity crush Steven Johnson gave about the future of news at South by Southwest.

Hopeful all that will help entertain you on your Friday. I’m still tied up with other commitments, but hopefully normal blogging will resume next week. And special thanks to Chris Kidd for filling in for me yesterday.

6 thoughts on “The future of news in 1981, and now

  1. greg mcconnell

    This news clip about the internet was very interesting. Much has changed sine 1981. Which only makes me wonder about what people will be doing 28 years from now. Change is inevitable.

  2. Max Allstadt

    I see no reason to be depressed by the coming death of the newspaper industry. Most papers have done a horrible job of adapting to the web era. They deserve to be disintegrating, for the same reason the major record labels deserve to be dying. Clinging to an expired paradigm is a surefire route to your own expiration.

    But guess what? It doesn’t matter if record labels go belly up or if newpapers die. People want news. People want music. The need will be filled. And in an era where people find it easier and easier to meet their needs for high quality media, I have no doubt we’re all going to end up better off.

    If paper editions become a nostalgic specialty product, that would be fine with me. One thing we’re learning in this new era is that old technology doesn’t go away, it just fades to cult status. Steam engines, 8-track cassettes, black powder rifles… all have their place in the hobby world. By the time I’m in my sixties, I expect paper printed words to be much the same. Perhaps we’ll keep books and periodicals around for ceremonial stuff, or for hobbyists. I see this as progress, not a loss. To those who lament the loss of the tactile immediacy of the printed page, I would say that if that experience matters, a new analogous experience will be found to replace it. IF people really need that, an entrepreneur will find a way to deliver it.

  3. Fezzik

    I’ll just add that the amount of local coverage by local newspapers, outside of sports and restaurant reviews, is pathetic. The Chronicle has 2-3 local stories a day, the rest being from wire services. On many days the NY Times has more stories with bay area bylines than local papers.

  4. californio

    Not sanguine about our future of telepapers. Among so many other problems, electronic media are infinitely easier for the government (or any other entity) to censor than newspapers. When radio and later television came on the scene, furthermore, they complemented but did not supplant print media; not so, obviously, with these here telepapers. Bit ironic to be blogging this but there you are.

  5. Mike Spencer

    I have encountered this attitude among a certain set of urban hipsters: we won’t miss newspapers at all because it will all just be replaced on the internet and we will have a wealth of news to choose from. Maybe, but a reduction in staff is a reduction in staff. In the “big cities” we will have our local blogs to do good work, away from the cities we will have less reporters and less quality blogs. (It’s a numbers game.) Whereas daily newspapers had someone checking on courts, meetings, schools, police departments, this will be reduced to scatter-shot approach by bloggers. In the “old days” three or four editors would edit and read a contrvoversial story before it went to print, now we just run it and retract or reprint IF factual errors.

    Lack of competition in news hurts the consumer. Outlets get lazy when they don’t have to worry about “being scooped.”

    Finally, there was a great op-ed piece in the NYT about The Daily Me, where people just gather news on the internet that fits their takes and views. Newspapers at least assembled contradicting viewpoints, or at least tend to more than a blog.

    If all blogs were as conscientious and thoughtful as our beloved ABO, I would not be as worried.. Alas, they are not and we will miss the mission and organization of newspapers. We shall see what shakes out.