Online Journalism in 1981 (VIDEO)

By Ethan Klapper Comment

Above is one of my favorite videos about online journalism — a 1981 television report from KRON-TV in the San Francisco Bay Area. It shows how, through a special service, people were able to dial into servers and download the day’s newspaper.

How long does it take to download the newspaper? Well, over 2 hours (after all, the modems shown require the user to physically place a telephone handset on top of them).

It speaks of eight newspapers who had online versions available at the time: the Columbus Dispatch, The New York Times, the Virginian-Pilot & Ledger Star, The Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Francisco Examiner, the Los Angeles Times and the Minneapolis Star and Tribune.

“This is an experiment,” said David Cole of the San Francisco Examiner, adding, “we’re not in it to make money.”

At the time, there were only an estimated 2-3,000 home computer owners in the Bay Area, according to the report. Over 500 apparently responded to an ad in the San Francisco Chronicle to receive the service.

The end of this news report is definitely the best. It contains a pair of very interesting predictions.

One prediction, that turned out to be completely true: “Engineers now predict the day will come when we get all of our newspapers and magazines by home computer, but that’s a few years off.”

Another prediction that might not have been as true: “So for the moment at least, this fellow isn’t worried about being out of a job.” This fellow refers to a gentleman who is hawking newspapers at the Continental Trailways bus station.