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Newspapers in 2010

Note: This was a winner in a contest by in Newspapers & Technology in 1990:

Newspaper 2010 from an Editorial Point of View
by Stephen B. Waters
© March 1990


For years, prior to 2010, people had mistaken information for news. The resulting proliferation of video and audio channels split the audience and escalated delivery charges. Our newspaper realized that organization and access make information useful. We manage the local news database, the local advertising database, [the customer database,] and, as a value-added service, the indexes to them. We also franchise databases from national and international information collectors. Franchising is a cost-effective way serve readers. Telephone companies, who we thought were going to put us out of existence, were unable or unwilling to see the value of this editing and data-structuring.

When cable television, the telephone company, and the Postal Service sucked up a larger percentage of advertising to pay their own overhead, local newspapers dwindled. It was difficult to convince people to pay more than the price of a cup of coffee for local news. Subscribers had been spoiled by advertisers shouldering the cost of collecting and editing news. Citizens became information-rich and news-impoverished. Television didn't cover half the news on the front page of a newspaper and most people considered news to be simply what they thought they were interested in. We knew that news blends what you want with what you need to know.

Local newspapers would have died had it not been for the emergence of the copyrighted filter. A computer-programmed filter extracts selected text and graphics from the information stream based upon subject, author, keyword, source, destination, date, or other blend of characteristics. The automated filter is necessary because more information than can be easily assimilated by the reader is shoveled down the fiber-optic cables and the satellite sideband feeds attached to the home communications computer system. Prior to the filter, people would dip into the rushing torrents of information with limited means to winnow it down or extract it efficiently.

People subscribe to a filter they trust. I may prefer the British magazine, the Economist's filter over the Time or Newsweek filter because of their point of view or because I trust their judgment. I subscribe to the Associated Press filter and the local newspaper filter. Changing keywords modifies the basic filter to reflect personal preferences.

The newspaper still uses editors. As a human filter they provide a good defense against the possibility a brittle, automated filter could insulate a subscriber from too much.

A personally-tailored newspaper is filtered out of the information streams, composed, indexed and then displayed on the flexible, portable computerpage screens beside the morning coffee, the evening martini, or the toilet. The remainder of the torrent of information is still available for detailed examination, and need only be requested over the cable backchannel.

Like conventional newspapers and magazines, filters have an advertising portion attached to them. For years advertisers had targeted specific segments of the market. This kept down their expenses and provided a decent return on investment. With saturation of the targeted market, however, new growth depended on reaching unexpected markets. Advertising to everyone through mass media returned to favor: The general purpose newspaper had returned.

Internally at the newspaper, our staff has changed complexion, adding the position of Archivist. Archivists maintain the most efficient paths to index and reference our collected data. They also help reporters investigate public databases. Business and governmental bureaucracies occasionally try to remove indexes that reference potentially embarrassing information or they try to obfuscate the issues with so much information that news becomes lost in the noise. Archivists try to deduce what might be there but, because of the lack of index connections, cannot be reached. We learned long ago that whoever controls the index controls the future.

Archivists maintain Navigator programs that transfer subscriber requests for supplementary, in-depth information automatically to original source databases. Subscribers are charged a flat subscription charge up to a particular level of usage. Surcharges are applied for expeditious delivery or extraordinary competition for the available bandwidth.

Although gateways exist such that the staff can work at home, most come in to work, preferring the camaraderie and the change of scenery. There is no difference between desktop and laptop computing except the portability of the peripherals and the bandwidth of the communications connections. Desks have only one computer with one screen to control the operator interface to all programs. Reporters and editors argued interminably whether track balls, mouses(mice?), touch screens, keyboards, sensor gloves, or neural sensors provided the best operator interface. It was finally recognized that individual preference is best. This led to a standard interface to programs through which different operator interfaces could be attached. Once an operator has decided what to do, the task is to quickly and efficiently convince the computer to do it. Therefore, operators change interfaces depending upon the job at hand.

Audio and video original information may be played on the screen in real time. Since it takes less time to read than to listen, most editors choose to peruse computer-generated AWR (Audio Word Recognition is the aural equivalent to Optical Character Recognition) full-text transcripts of audio or video that scroll rapidly across the screen. To quickly reduce long transcripts to manageability, text can be run through a programmed context-sensitive sieve to tag potentially relevant parts. A compressed document appears on the screen with the selected, highlighted, areas visible and the full body of text hidden in the background in hypertext mode.

The newspaper sponsors computer-managed forums for subscribers. News events themselves, the premise is that words on the screen (or page) stay put for closer and repeated examination. Verbal debate has been replaced by the written dialog. People -- particularly politicians -- are held accountable for what they say and for what, according to our archives, they have said in the past. Changes of mind in the face of sound argument are not sins the way they used to be.

Actually, dialogs have been replaced by the polylog -- multi-threaded computer-managed discussions in which anyone can participate. New threads can break off and diverse old threads can reconnect. The reassuring event about these is how quickly an irresponsible participant's threads are ignored. The discussions are self-policing.

One of the most popular reader functions, also maintained by the Archivist, is the local port to Collected Algorithms. The cost of storage capacity has reduced to the point that a "How to" database can be maintained on everything from mixing a martini, manufacturing concrete, or running a meeting. The object-oriented database builds into its structure some knowledge about the world it records.

We found the easiest way to maintain an updated database of local organizations, officers and members was to create a public service bulletin board. Without it, the expense for mailing lists, bookkeeping, and other recordkeeping for the clubs would have been substantially higher. More importantly, since we are a small city, the management time required to maintain individual systems would have tied up the city's volunteer management pool. Our city administration was unwilling to sponsor a public service computing utility so we stepped in. We keep a tight gateway between it and our own files lest some computer hacker find a way in. The only requirement we ask of user organizations is occasional use of the E-mail address list and use of their minutes and other public communications for news articles.

Several times over the past years we have donated older personal computers to the public library. Even though they may have been limited for our use, they serve perfectly well for teaching reading, writing, and other basic skills. They also serve to minimize non-readers embarrassment since they can tell family and friends that they are learning to use the computer when, almost incidentally, they are developing their reading skills. The facility is heavily used since the local courts and social services have undertaken the responsibility to identify those that pass by them who are in need of help.

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This page was last updated: Thursday, April 8, 2004 at 11:14:11 AM
Copyright 2014 Stephen B. Waters Weblog at: http://blogs.rny.com/sbw/
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