Preparing Newspapers for Third Wave of Technology

At the invitation of Olivia Casey, I was invited to write an article for the “ASNE and SND Technology Survey ’96” report.  My topic was on the impact of technology and pagination upon the newsroom and journalists.

One of my key points was the need for editors to take more active control of the issues around pagination and other technology:

The challenge for today’s newsroom managers is to look at these new technologies and see how they might reshape the landscape of news and information gathering and how to make plans to adapt to those changes. It is time to get proactive and stop being so reactive to the changes that have affected and will continue to affect newspapers.

My concept was that newsroom technology was about to enter into a new wave or stage that would be driven by databases and computer systems that allowed for the easy storage and access of information bits and pieces.

The industry’s attempts to modernize its backshop production can be divided into three
* First wave – electronic paste-up
* Second wave – electronic composition
* Third wave – database publishing

Finally, I think I was pretty accurate about how journalists would need to be more generalists:

Where does that leave the journalist as specialist? My career advice is this – get new skills, learn new aspects of the business. This holds true whether you are a reporter or designer. In the future, newspapers will need more generalists, fewer priests guarding the gates of knowledge. These generalists will need the skills to deal with multiple forms of communication – the written word, the audio clip, still and video images. This new form of collaborative publishing will provide the potential of tapping a great number of people to assemble the news. And with more people involved, more and different ideas of how to inform, entertain and enlighten. That is the risk and reward of the third wave.

I also wrote a sidebar about how journalists need to think about the customer:

Tomorrow’s journalists — from reporter to designer to managing editor — must play an increasingly more important role in getting the customer to buy our newspapers, fax services and audio lines and to visit our online areas.  It doesn’t matter how good the content is if nobody reads it.