The Future Then and Now: Electronic Newspapers: When Futurists Were First Outlining Scenarios for Electronic News Delivery, They Didn't Foresee the Overwhelming Demand for Interactivity, nor the Consequences of Competing Information Sources

Article excerpt

The Internet has so transformed our lives that we may forget how recently it came about. Interestingly, one of the industries it's transformed most radically--journalism--was in the process of changing anyway.

"Futurists have long speculated that newspapers would someday be delivered electronically to people's homes. In Britain, electronic newspapers are already a reality," THE FUTURIST reported in "The Electronic Newspaper," April 1978.

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In that article, Kenneth Edwards, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Alabama, took FUTURIST readers on a tour of Britain's Viewdata system, a scheme whereby information could be transmitted by teletext from a BBC editor's office directly to viewers' televisions at home.

While the technologies were being developed to provide online access to news, information, and other communication, another unexpected phenomenon was beginning to occur: a call from media consumers to participate in the process.

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Nearly a decade after Edwards's article, Mike Greenly wrote about his experience as one of the world's first interactive electronic journalists ("Interactive Journalism and Computer Networking: Exploring a New Medium," March-April 1987). In addition to covering the World Future Society's 1986 conference electronically, Greenly also used computer conferencing to cover the Comdex computer trade show in Las Vegas and the Democratic and Republican National Conventions in 1984 (for which Greenly struggled to obtain press credentials).

As he hauled his portable computer to interview such luminaries as New York City Mayor Ed Koch for research on his book Chronicle: The Human Side of AIDS, Greenly sent reports back to a computer bulletin board on the online service, The Source (later bought by CompuServe). When he checked back in after a day's reporting, he would find responses and queries from readers.

"I had a following to whom I offered my reports," Greenly wrote. "Not just my own attempts at journalism, but interactive journalism, since people could write back to me and electronically converse with each other."

We caught up with Greenly recently to get his thoughts on today's--and tomorrow's--media environment.

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"Back when we--myself and scattered online buddies around the world--were exploring or inventing what 'electronic journalism' could be, the corporations who were hosting us didn't seem to have a clue," he recalls. …