Classic 1981 News Report About Online Newspapers

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It might be hard to imagine now, but in 1981, very few people had home computers. Truth is, there wasn't much you could do with one unless you were a computer programmer. They were enormous boxes and the screens were tiny and looked like the encoded version of the Matrix, all black with green text. At that time, very few people could imagine a world like today where computers fit in your pocket and the Internet is the provider of virtually any information we want at any time.

However, a report from a San Francisco Bay Area news station from that same year (use the link; we couldn't embed the video) was oddly prophetic -- and also a tad off the mark -- when specifically discussing newspapers online. It turns out, the newspapers in San Francisco, right in the heart of Silicon Valley, were already providing a service where users with computers and a modem straight out of War Games could download the entire paper -- minus comics and images, natch -- for a fee. In this case, the phone charges were about $5 per hour and it took over two hours to download the text of the entire paper.

The service wasn't terribly efficient, obviously, but they did find one gentleman who believed it was the wave of the future. As for the newspapers, they considered this more of an experiment, one they thought was pretty much cost neutral.

"We're not in it for the money," David Cole of the San Francisco Examiner said in the report. "We're probably not going to lose a lot, but we aren't going to make a lot either."

So, on one hand the guy who owns a home computer did manage to see the future of news delivery online, but the guys at the paper couldn't imagine how this would eat into their bottom line. In fact, at the end of the report, there is video of a guy selling papers on the street and a voice over that says, "This guy isn't too worried."

Obviously, he should have been.

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