What would Jeff do?

October 13, 2008

In case you happen to be a journalist and Jeff Jarvis still has you thinking that newspaper problems are your fault, take a look at the New York Times from July, 1980 (and if you like catchy headlines, they don’t come much catchier than this):

First U.S. Experiments in Electronic Newspapers Begin in Two Communities; 13 Newspapers to Be Added The Need for Newspapers A Communications Development Telephone, Cable and Airwaves A Warning on Regulation [pay access].

Here’s how it starts:

After nearly three centuries in which newspapers were news printed on paper, the first major experiments in this country on the “electronic newspaper” got under way last week.

For American newspapers, many of which are still uncertain whether a good offense is the best defense against the encroachment of electronics into the news business, it is a landmark development in the world of home computers, which ultimately are expected to revolutionize the way Americans receive information.

Last week the Columbus Dispatch began transmitting its entire editorial content to 3,000 home terminals around the country on a computer system called CompuServe. For $5 an hour, the home viewer can sit down at a computer keyboard and call up on the computer screen a list of all the stories appearing in The Dispatch that day. The viewer can select any article from a condensed index and read it or scan it, much as he would a newspaper spread out before him, and then go on to the next selection.

In addition, the viewer has access to articles by the Associated Press plus games, advertising and other consumer services…

Another experiment, which is being watched closely by the rest of the newspaper industry, has just been started by the Knight-Ridder Newspapers in Coral Gables, Fla. The $1.5-million project provides news, advertising and other consumer services via 200 personal computers installed in area homes at no cost to the participating families. Knight-Ridder is supplying the computer and content and the Bell System is providing terminals and the telephone lines that link a central computer to the homes.

Well, capitalism’s forces of creative destruction have ground CompuServe into dust quicker than the Columbus Dispatch.

But let’s say back in 1980, when that was written, you’re a twenty-something writer for a paper like the San Francisco Examiner. Let’s say you’re Jeff. What would you do? Sound the alarm? Use your small newspaper platform to call ‘bullshit’ on these attempts by the newspaper industry to modernise itself? Start a campaign?

Well, he didn’t.

So would you blame the young Jeff J for those sins of omission? Probably not. And should he blame journalists? You know the answer…

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