He Saw It Coming

04bingham_190.jpg The impact of digital communication has absolutely devastated the newspaper industry. Most pundits are sitting around, shaking their heads wondering how this ever could have happened. If you ask most of them, they’ll tell you that even ten years ago they couldn’t have predicted this. That is, everyone but the former publisher of Louisville, Kentucky’s Courier-Journal. In 1981 publisher Barry Bingham Jr. told his Harvard classmates at their 25th college reunion that “by the time they met for their 50th,’most of what we read will be transmitted into our homes or offices electronically.'”

Newsweek has a poignant story today from the late Bingham Jr.’s eldest daughter Emily Bingham. Her father was not shy about his opinion that the newspaper industry was changing, but as we have seen (and his daughter confirms) archaic newspaper men turned a deaf ear, censuring their colleague for “distracting from what they considered their business: getting news onto paper and into a reader’s hands.”

Out of this petri dish of the 1970s, my Datsun-driving environmentalist dad hatched his vision of what he called the “electronic newspaper.” It would arrive, “Jetsons”-like, via cable, satellite or telephone lines, accessed and updated around the clock. Subscribers would pay lower rates. Trees would be spared, fuel conserved. Information was his passion, and his goal was to offer as much of it to as many people as possible…He believed that the future of news lay in allowing readers to decide what was most important to them, as with today’s customizable home pages. To most editors, this was heresy. This frustrated him and he made little effort to hide it.

Find out what happened to the first online newspaper after the jump.

In 1986 the Courier-Journal published its first online edition. The paper was accessible by modem and made a promising debut. Unfortunately, within the year several Bingham family members decided to sell their shares of the company to Gannett Co. Bingham Jr. lost his spot as publisher and his electronic platform.

Check out the full story here.