News Broadcast From 1981 Foretells The Collapse Of Print Journalism

“Imagine, if you will, sitting down to your morning coffee, turning on your home computer to read the day’s newspaper,” a news anchor said in a 1981 KRON San Francisco broadcast.

Well, none of our readers have to imagine that scenario. They do it everyday.

Back in 1981, however, the concept of online media seemed far-fetched. Regardless, two local San Fransisco papers, The Examiner and Chronicle, wanted to make it happen.

Under their system, editors programmed content into an online database. Then, when readers called a phone number (linked to Columbus, Ohio), the news would appear on their televisions — with the exception of pictures, ads, and comics. The screen looked like this:

Downloading the entire edition took over two hours via phone, running $US5 per hour. Both papers’ street editions cost 20 cents.

“This is an experiment. We’re trying to figure out what it means to us as editors and reporters and what it means to the home user. And we’re not in it to make money. We’re probably not going to lose a lot, but we aren’t gonna make much either,” David Cole from the S.F. Examiner said.

Only six other publications joined the system then. And in 1981, just two-to-three thousand people owned computers in the Bay Area, KRON reported.

“This is only the first step in newspapers by computer. Engineers now predict a day will come when we get all our newspapers and magazines by home computer — but that’s a few years off,” KRON reported.

The transition took longer than a few years, but people now consume news on their computers religiously. Publications without online components will almost certainly fail — although print hasn’t died either.

Moreover, computer ownership has likely reached at least 600,000 in the Bay Area today. (In 2011, 75.6% of Census respondents reported having a computer in their home, and San Fransisco’s population borders on 826,000).

Watch the newscast below:

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