Newspapers Saw the Digital Train A-Coming

But It Didn't Do Them All That Much Good

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It's fascinating how presciently newspapers in the early '80s saw the future, and how they missed the future when it finally arrived. Check out this YouTube video that's been making the rounds -- a news segment from 1981, touting the newspaper delivered on the home computer. One quote taken out of context: "We're not in it to make money." (Also: "It takes over two hours to receive the entire text of the newspaper over the phone.")

A few points on this that I pulled from my recent Ad Age white paper, "Downtime Opportunity":

Speaking at a 1980 Newspaper Advertising Bureau conference on the future of telecommunications and newspapers, Lloyd G. Schermer, president of publisher Lee Enterprises, warned: "Our future competitors are going to be giants such as AT&T, Exxon, IBM, Xerox and many entrepreneurs not yet in business but fully capable of using new technological developments."

Among the topics at that conference (Ad Age, Oct. 6, 1980): "Home and office computers and delivery information systems that will make it possible to learn everything one could possibly want to know at the touch of a button and the lighting of a screen."

Newspapers were quick to jump into the pool. CompuServe in 1980 signed deals with The New York Times, The Washington Post and other papers to deliver content online. "The news," Ad Age reported, "will flow onto the user's video screen at a rate of 300 words a minute." Newspaper publisher Knight Ridder and AT&T, meanwhile, experimented with an interactive home information system.

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