Coping with copy from the Gulf war
Press release service transmitted daily full-text pool reports directly into newspapers' front-end systems
Beyond military review of press pool coverage before and during the Gulf war, the submission and release of hard copy compounded the delay in moving the news to U.S. newspapers.
In spite of some direct modem hookups from remote laptops to newsroom desktops, such communication was not always possible or practical.
Still, the telephone was the principal pipeline across the world. Even so, obstacles for reporters and their papers were availability, cost and nature of communications.
With the hard reality of hard copy reports, fax seemed a convenient compromise between a modem link and dictation.
San Diego Tribune assistant managing editor William Osborne told E&P his paper discovered early that printing out and faxing copy from a Saudi hotel was cheaper than dictation or modem communication.
But faxing would still be time-consuming, with each reporter separately sending to each newspaper an identical approved report. That also meant time wasted on the receiving end, where incoming copy would have to be keyed into editorial front ends or scanned into the systems using optical character recognition software. The alternative was to rely soley on wire services.
U.S. Newswire, based in Washington, D.C., came up with a third option: given sufficient interest from newspapers, it would receive faxes of all pool reports, convert them to ASCII files and transmit the full texts to all subscribers simultaneously.
The service not only relieved fax demand in Saudi Arabia, it speeded transmission to newsrooms and did so in a manner that was immediately available on editors' VDTs.
U.S. Newswire president Bill McCarren said the pool's original faxed documents were "less than easy" to manage owing to poor quality, marginal annotations, inserted text and censors' deletions. The Pentagon, he said, was willing to take fax transmissions and distribute the reports, but that would only have further slowed delivery.
For five years McCarren's company has similarly transmitted clients' news releases to wire services, most major Washington media and larger media outlets nationwide. However this was the first time it would charge the media, which in this case were its clients.
USA Today staff writer Larry Jolidon was print pool office coordinator until Jan. 15, when he went into the field full time with an Army pool. At that point, he told E&P, no link with U.S. Newswire had been established, but he passed on its communications and proposals to those remaining at the office in Dhahran.
Jolidon found the arrangement interesting, especially in light of his own experience.
"They charged newspapers basically to get pool reports distributed here, stateside," he said, ". . . but they got the pool reports free of charge."
"I assume they made out," he continued. "We didn't. At the print pool office we were sunk in debt."
Upon returning, he said, when he tried to collect assessments from papers that had used the office, some questioned the need to pay him when they had paid U.S. Newswire for the material.
The print pool office, a hotel room, had a small staff that kept track of pool reports and saw to it that reporters had access to the reports as soon as they were in.
"The deal was that if you paid into the print pool committee fund, we agreed to fax committee reports to whomever you wanted," Jolidon explained.
As it happened, many chose to use U.S. Newswire, he said, acknowledging that "Of course that did save time -- it save faxing the same report to a bunch of different numbers."
Jolidon said he was unaware of any other organization offering such a service to the pool.
McCarren said the small print pool office staff, armed with a photocopier and fax machine, had to serve more than a thousand reporters, most not in pools. …