My first newspaper job was right here with The Oklahoman (then The Daily Oklahoman) back around 1970. It was a transition time for the industry, which was going from “hot-type” to the “offset” printing process.
Because of that, reporters and editors were saying goodbye to their manual typewriters as technology had ushered in electric typewriters in the form of IBM Selectrics. These machines literally started the ball rolling in connecting the newsroom to the offset printing process.
The magic typing ball
These Selectrics replaced the individual striking keys with the typing ball that was calibrated to put the right letter on the page as you hit the corresponding key. You could change typefaces simply by changing the typing ball, and you could code the copy to be read automatically by an optical character reader (OCR) machine.
Someone would simply feed the typed sheets into the OCR machine, and out would come the typeset copy, formatted for your newspaper and ready to be pasted onto the newspaper page that would be photographed and magically converted to a thin metal plate. This was placed like a saddle on the printing press. The press was started and voila! A newspaper would emerge on the other end.
What’s this? Change?
This was the first significant change to occur in the way newspapers were produced since the early 19th Century, and it was the first stage of putting composing-room functions into newsroom hands. It also produced a great deal of angst among reporters. Ironically, those professionals who are always writing about changes in society have traditionally been some of the most resistant to change in the way they do their job.
For them, technology in the newsroom means change, and change means a break with tradition, and the traditions of journalism are as endearing to reporters as motherhood, baseball, and apple pie.
I clearly recall reporters steadfastly refusing to give up their Royal manuals, even as they were ordered by editors to replace them with the new Selectrics. In some cases, they would actually hide those relics, sneak off and use them instead of the shiny new machines that were placed on their
desks. It took more than a year for some die-hards to realize copy produced on manuals wouldn’t work in the new technological system.
Once they got used to the Selectrics, however, they realized this new delivery system of news was easier (for the most part), let them have later deadlines (which all reporters crave) and – most importantly – this technology did not affect content.
The reality of change
This is the new reality for journalists today, as we have long-since crossed the threshold of computers replacing electric typewriters and Web editions of newspapers challenging the print product for supremacy with readers.
And it doesn’t stop there as I recently heard a Dallas editor talking about his newspaper past Web-first to Twitter-first.
The new delivery system of Web-first media does not have to affect news content, and it is that content that is so important to society.
The new generation of journalists who have come into the newspaper and television news industry over the past decade now take this as a given: the Web is here to stay, and more people are getting their information from it than from traditional newspapers or even 30-minute TV newscasts.
That said, newspapers and television news have to play first to the Web and then to their traditional delivery systems of printed papers and nightly newscasts. The change is occurring at a more rapid pace with newspapers than TV, although the latter industry is catching on fast to the new reality.
OK, I get it now
While this change is – at times – heartbreaking for those professionals who have always considered themselves first to be newspaper journalists or television journalists rather than information providers, it is now becoming second nature to most in the business.
Perhaps it is a good thing, as well, because journalists can now focus squarely on content. That doesn’t mean they all do, however, as many are getting distracted by the lights, colors, and bells of software applications.
All journalists, however, realize the means of producing and delivering that content will continue to evolve. The traditions of producing the news are about as trustworthy for journalists as the shifting sands on a beach.
The old grains of sand will be replaced by new ones tomorrow. Yet the beach itself remains and continues to draw customers.