1974 'Roundup of News Technology'



This is a Nov. 12, 1974, internal report -- Roundup of News Technology, written by Travis Hughs, news systems coordinator.)



Anybody care to guess where newspaper technology will be one year from now?

A year ago, the wire services announced plans to experiment with high-speed delivery. At the time, only a few newspapers were ready to experiment with these programs.

Now, dozens of newspapers have signed contracts or plan to subscribe to DataNews and DataStream.

The Detroit News was the only big city daily into electronic editing one year ago. Now, almost everybody has plans, or plans to plan.

All UPI ComCenters (Boston, New York, Washington, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas and San Francisco) are linked by 9600-baud lines (roughly 9600 words per minute) to a central computer in New York.

The 90 UPI line bureaus are starting to receive their equipment. The Regional IS&R project involves 300 video terminals, all linked to the common computer. All bureaus will have instant access to all UPI copy produced in the United States.

UPI is producing over a dozen different abstract wires, each designed to notify a set of users when copy of interest to them is available. The abstract includes the first paragraph, a word count and retrieval number. There are input and output abstracts for internal UPI use and sports and regional DataNews abstracts for use by newspapers.

The Demand service, which enables a newspaper to select stories from an abstract wire and retrieve them from the UPI database, is almost ready for the marketplace.

Both DataNews and Demand subscribers will be able to select the state reports they wish to see.

Both will be able to retrieve backgrounders and biographies from the UPI electronic library. Thus newspapers will have a national morgue available instantly in digital form.

In addition to DataNews, specialized input and output links continue to go up -- tying the UPI system to other computers. For about a year, the National Weather Service computer at Silver Spring, Md., has been feeding weather reports directly into the UPI database for use by bureaus around the country.

The USDA soon will begin to feed livestock reports directly into the Regional system.

One metropolitan newspaper is tied into the UPI system by terminal, and is experimenting with using it as its own editing system. The UPI system -- which should not be confused with AP's hub computer system -- makes an excellent newspaper editing system. This experiment is known in UPI as Demand-Plus, because it allows the subscriber to retrieve wire copy plus enter, edit and output its own copy.

SPOTLIGHT SYSTEM

One of the most interesting electronic newsrooms and production facilities belongs to United Feature Syndicate in New York City.

UFS is faced with the problem of delivering in a variety of formats its columns, including the North American Newspaper Alliance, London Express and Women's News.

Take for example the Jack Anderson column, a daily NANA feature.

UFS delivers Anderson by electronic feed, hardcopy on-line printers, mail copy, scannable copy in three fonts and camera-ready copy in three column widths.

And UFS does this without rekeyboarding after the copy is input to the UPI system. UFS, which is linked by terminals to UPI, retrieves the copy and files it to the NANA wire which is generated by the system. UFS also sends the copy to its own mini-computer which records it on a cassette. This cassette, with the proper coding added each time, drives the photocomp machine that sets the camera-ready copy. Then the cassette is used in an automatic typewriter system that produces the scannable copy.

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The ANPA low-speed wire standards go into effect January 1 and should make life easier for newspapers and the wire services.

UPI and AP have agreed to have similar standards for high-speed wires.

Wire service transmission codes have evolved over many years from signals to drive printers, to TTS signals to drive linecasters, then to TTS signals for photocomp and linecasters and finally into signals that do all of these and are input to computers. Many systems people, who are backgrounded in computers but not newspaper production, marvel at the crazy codes being sent to their computers.

High-speed delivery of DataStream and DataNews gave the wire services and newspapers a chance to start with a clean slate -- well, almost a clean slate.

Consequently, the news services will use ASCII code instead of six-level TTS. Even though ASCII is "the" computer language, one finds immediately there is no "standard" ASCII. Thus, UPI and AP are working with ANPA to arrive at wire service high-speed standards for ASCII.

Differences in codes between hardware vendors, newspapers and news services have caused all of us some unhappy moments. But if such things can be funny, there was such a case with a newspaper system that worked fine on everything except baseball leads on home games of the Minnesota Twins. It seems combination of the Twins slugline and the Bloomington, Minn., dateline put the first paragraph in boldface. It eventually was cured but the bug caused some head-scratching first.

SOMETHING-TO-KEEP-IN-THE-BACK-OF-YOUR-MIND DEPARTMENT

I've been thinking that is getting easier and easier to bring video terminals into newsrooms because newsmen now know that other newsmen are using them, and this leads to acceptance.

But another intriguing theory was put forth the other day.

"Naw," my informant said, "it's due to all those calculators and digital watches and alarm clocks. People are getting used to pushing buttons and seeing digital displays."

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Gradually, around the UPI newsroom in New York, we've grown used to the language changing with technology. On a big story, the news editor might say: "Don't wait the queue. Just head and tail it M."

Even so, heads turned the other day when an editor -- without flinching -- told another: "Let's use an monotonic ascending numbering system."

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The October edition of Editor & Publisher has two pages of technology terms. The glossary starts on page 46.

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MORE ON DATANEWS

State news at 1200 words per minute! For some reason, that's the part of DataNews that turns me on.

I guess it goes back to my newsside days of waiting for a split; waiting for an operator. It is frustrating for a state editor to have a hot story that he just knows will be the play item of the day, and not have the capability of getting it out to the newspapers.

DataNews -- with the help of the Regional IS&R program -- allows the statehouse reporter to get his copy to the subscriber within seconds.

Here's how it works:

The UPI reporter writes his story on a Harris 1600 video terminal. When it is ready to go, he pushes a file button and it travels to New York by one of seven super-high-speed links. When it arrives in the Regional computer, an abstract is produced on a 100-word-per-minute printer at the state editor's desk. The editor calls up and reads out the copy on his Harris 1100 editing terminal and sends it back to the computer with coding that will put it on one or more low-speed wires.

The story also switches to one or more of six DataNews files, serving different geographic regions. Each of these DataNews files carries the national basic report -- A-wire, B-wire, sportswire, financial newswire and racewire. Additionally, they carry a mix of state reports. The reports are from the states within the region -- plus any desired border states. Selectors are used to pass through to the newspaper only those services it is entitled to and desires. Selectors on the abstract wires permit even further selection, allowing, for example, sports desk abstracts on both national and state sports items.

High-speed delivery always brings to mind getting the hot items to newspapers faster. But it also permits UPI to clean up the a.m. and p.m. reports earlier. To the newspapers that can mean closing out a page sooner.

So far, the improvements described have been limited to UPI. When these distribution improvements are coupled with the speed a newspaper gains internally with its own editing system, the results are breathtaking. It means statehouse copy, edited several times, from writer to type in minutes.


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