When and if the Internet kills off the daily newspaper, it’ll hardly be a crime of passion. Actually, it may be the most premeditated murder in the history of premeditated murders–it all started decades ago, and the dirty deed hasn’t been completed yet. Here’s proof in the form of a wonderful 1981 San Francisco local TV news report on bleeding-edge Bay Area newshounds who were dialing into CompuServe and downloading online newspapers–which took, according to the report, a couple of hours to do.
If you were using computers back in 1981, this clip is extraordinarily nostalgic, from the TRS-80 Model 1 with cassette player to the TRS-80 Color Computer hooked up to a TV to the rotary-dial phone and acoustic coupler to the reference to $5 an hour access fees to the vintage newspaper office equipped with green-screen terminals. I love the PC owner (“Owns Home Computer”) and the anchorwoman’s arched-eyebrow skepticism about the whole idea. And the misleading newspaper ad that shows a highly graphical online newspaper was simply a few years ahead of where newspapers would eventually get.
If you didn’t use computers back in 1981–maybe because you hadn’t been born yet–the clip is a great short course on what those of us who did went through. I miss many things about the old days, but not monochrome text-only screens, tape decks, or 300-baud modems.
I’m skeptical, incidentally, about the report’s statement that only two or three thousand folks in the Bay Area had home PCs. Especially given that the Bay Area was the epicenter of the home computer revolution and PCs of various sorts had been around for six years by then.
Twenty-eight years later, the daily newspaper is still with us, but it’s in extraordinarily fragile condition. It’s hardly making a daring prediction to say that we’ll end 2009 with fewer major newspapers than we started it with (actually, predicting that we won’t would be the gutsy guess). Anyone want to speculate on whether newspapers will exist in any form at all in, say, 2037? (My guess: Probably not. But magazines will still be with us, at least sorta.)