Envisioning the Electronic Newspaper: New Technology Seen Preserving the Familiar Newspaper Product

Article excerpt

COULD IT BE that the electronic newspaper of tomorrow -- that dizzying prospect that both enchants and frightens publishers of today -- will be made of paper?

Jerome Rubin, who helped create the pioneering on-line research services LEXIS and NEXIS, thinks it could.

"In the future, we may be able to use flexible [on-line computer] displays that approach paper -- or may even be some form of paper" Rubin said.

This electronic newspaper would be easy to recycle too: The same technology that prints the text would be able to erase it to make room for more stories.

Receiving its information from satellites, fiber optics or even the common twisted-pair copper wire of phone lines, this electronic newspaper would be something like an information Mobius strip -- constantly updating itself while allowing users to keep or "clip" other stories.

A newspaper, in short, as handy as a broadsheet or tabloid today.

Rubin suggested that electronic multimedia technology is turning out to be a friend rather than enemy of newspapers.

Advances in delivery technologies seem to be converging in a way that could preserve the familiar look and feel of a newspaper while dramatically increasing its capabilities to present information.

Rubin outlined his vision of the electronic newspaper in Tampa Bay, Fla., at the opening session Feb. 14 of "Interactive Newspapers '94: The Multimedia Mission," a conference sponsored by Editor & Publisher and the Kelsey Group.

Envisioning the shape of the electronic newspaper is what Rubin does as chairman of the News in the Future Consortium at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Laboratory. So far, what the consortium sees in the future mostly is reassuring to fearful newspaper publishers because the same technology -- and economics -- that make the 500-channel TV set possible will benefit newspapers, Rubin said.

Emerging asynchronous-transfermode delivery technologies permit delivery via twisted-pair wire of the entire text of a typical daily newspaper in less than a second, he noted.

"Bandwidth is becoming a commodity." he told the conference.

Similarly, reliable voice recognition is all but an accomplished fact, and the enormous task of getting computers to understand ordinary spoken language is just about within reach as well, he said.

"Systems are increasingly complex on the inside and increasingly simple on the outside," he added.

In Rubin's vision, readers will be able to have a constantly updated newspaper by expending about as much effort as it now takes to retrieve a paper from the porch.

Readers would "plug" their newspaper into their televisions and receive an entirely new paper.

"It would provide individualized stories plus background and history of those stories with as much -- or as little -- detail as [readers] wanted" Rubin said.

Readers could call up stories using ordinary language or even hand gestures.

And readers need not make even that effort: the newspaper could select stories based on the subscriber's profile. …