Good morning, it’s 7 a.m. and you’re tuned to CNLD-FM. This is your morning man Peter Dixon with today’s forecast for Toronto and surrounding areas.”
Opening one eye slightly, Mary groaned as she caught a glimpse of the smiling D.J. on the small holographic screen of her clock radio.
Reaching out from the temperature controlled sheets, her hand brushed over a small sensor on her night table. Rain again, she thought as the bedroom curtains slowly opened. Putting on her robe, Mary made her way downstairs. As she neared her domed kitchen, she heard the radio weatherperson predicting snow for the weekend if the temperature continued to drop. That would be some story, she thought, as she poured herself a cup of coffee. It hadn’t snowed in the area for over 25 years, when Mary was five. A lot had changed since 1994, she thought, as she sat down with her coffee in front of the kitchen’s Info-Screen. Keying in a special access code, she watched The Toronto Satellite Star slowly appear on the 40- inch screen. Finding her story in the index, she keyed in its coordinates and asked the Info-Screen for a hard copy. Yes, she thought as she waited for the four-colored laser printer to complete its task, things had certainly changed.
Standing on the threshold of the twenty-first century, Canadian media prepare to face the changes and challenges that lie ahead. Current (and predicted) advances in technology, shifts in consumer preferences and growing trends have combined to create the potential for many new and intriguing developments in journalism.
Leading the way in terms of exciting innovations for the industry is computerized pagination technology. Basically; a pagination system allows an editor sitting at a computer terminal to choose and edit copy for a page, write head lines, select and size graphics arid photographs and set the type for the page. This technology offers newsrooms several benefits including more control over the completed product, less time needed to design pages and, therefore, more time to meet deadlines. The integration of computer pagination systems among North American newspapers is, however, progressing rather slowly. Of the 1,753 daily papers and thousands of weeklies in Canada and the United States, only 170 have adopted the system.
“In terms of new technology, I think the newspaper industry is very pragmatic,” says Peggy Bair Brooks, a senior programmer/analyst in the American Newspaper Publishers Association (ANPA) technical department. “They want to see the technology tested and figure out the best way to implement it before they begin to consider it.”
Also holding back potential buyers is the cost of computer pagination systems which range from $1 million to $4 million. The interest is there, Brooks believes, but many newspapers-especially the smaller community weeklies-can’t afford the system at this time. However, as manufacturers work on developing more affordable systems and as smaller papers begin adopting desk-top publishing (a form of pagination in which personal computers and laser printers produce pages), more newspapers are beginning to see some sort of computerized pagination in their future.
“By the year 2000, you’re going to find that the young people coming into the industry will not believe that newspapers were ever produced without this system,” says Jim Bruce, managing editor at the Windsor Star.
Having installed its Harris pagination system in 1985, the pioneering Windsor Star has achieved almost 100 per cent computerized pagination. Although moving slowly into the graphic aspects of the system, the paper basically uses the pagination ~ system to input and edit stories. At § this point, photographs and other j graphics continue to be manually ~ inserted on the finished page in the ~ composing room-a practice Bruce ~ believes will gradually be phased out.
“Generally, the whole production process has been moving from the composing room into the editorial department.”
Looking to introduce computerized pagination with minimal layoffs for composing room employees, most newspapers are relying on early retirement packages and attrition policies to ease the transition from composing room to computer. At the Windsor Star, for example, the attrition policy has reduced the number of composing room staff by more than half in the past decade.
As composing rooms decrease in size and function, and as more manufacturers begin to develop systems that are faster and less complicated (the most promising being a system that will allow pages to go directly from the computer to a printing plate), pagination systems will no doubt be as common as hot-metal type once was. In only 40 years moving type has evolved from an inky hands-on job in a hot composing room to a clean matter of key strokes in an air-conditioned office.
While computerized pagination has slowly begun to revolutionize the newspaper industry, satellite technology has quickly shown its potential as a means of distributing newspapers and magazines. For $4,000 to $10,000 per month, a publication can transmit copy to printing sites across the country or halfway around the world. Satellites have become a necessity for large publications with national distribution. The New York based Dow Jones & Co. (parent company of The Wall Street Journal) serves over two million readers and employs a network of 18 earth stations throughout the United States. USA Today currently transmits to 33 US sites and to stations in Europe and Asia.
Here in Canada, one publication that also uses satellite printing (on a much smaller scale) is The Financial Post. Leasing a portion of a channel on a satellite situated 36,000 kilometres above the equator, The Post can simultaneously transmit pages for printing in Edmonton, Montreal and Vancouver at a rate of 45 seconds per page. Pages are scanned and converted into electronic impulses which then travel to a satellite dish. A laser beam scanner exposes the pages onto film which is used to make plates for printing. At $300,000 a year for use and main tenance of the equipment and landlines, The Post can justify the expense of satellite printing because about half of its subscribers live outside southern Ontario.
Under the old system, The Post composed all the pages together and shot two sets of negatives-one for Toronto and another for the West. The negatives, shipped out West by air, would arrive on Saturday afternoon and be printed on Sunday. However, as circulation grew and The Post went daily, this system became limited. “Now that we have home delivery established in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Montreal and Ottawa-and we’re expanding -we can'( use airline carriers because the schedules aren’t there,” says David Lindsay, assistant director of operations at The Post. “It [satellite printing] was something we had to do even though it was a lot cheaper to do it the old way.”
For industry veterans like Jim Bruce, it is only a matter of time before the demands of a growing computer-literate society result in the disappearance of newsprint. In its place will be the newspaper delivered to the home via our computers or television sets.
Brooks disagrees. Although computers are her livelihood, she doesn’t believe they could replace the traditional newspaper. “There has been a lot said about the paperless office and the paperless home, but I don’t think you are ever going to eliminate the person who wants to sit at the breakfast table and hold a newspaper in his hand or read the paper on the way to work.”
While computers may one day alter the way we receive and read newspapers, computer technology may also change the practice of print journalism. Technology experts predict that by the twenty-first century, we may be able to access most computer systems with voice prints. Under such a system, writers could dial a computer number from any location and, after the system identifies a voice, they could input copy simply by reading it over the phone. Are our typing days numbered?
It was nearly 1 p.m. when Mary finished reading her story into the paper’s editorial computers. Flicking the phone linkup switch to the off position, Mary made a mental note to call the computer technician before the office closed for the day. It had taken her nearly half an hour to access the system and another hour to input her story-a process that should have taken her about 20 minutes at the most. If the com puter wasn’t repaired by her deadline tomorrow, she might have to drag out her ancient Smith Corona typewriter and fax the typed story to the office. Glancing at the clock, she realized it would be a few hours before the assignment editor would call with some story ideas. I might as ~ell enjoy this break, Mary thought as she reached for a magazine, inserting it into the video receiver. The kitchen lights slowly dimmed as the magazine appeared on the Info-Screen.
While traditional paper magazines will most likely continue well into the twenty-first century, there is a new breed of magazine to watch for. Video magazines are the latest concept in the industry. A young idea, these magazines are slowly gaining acceptance in the North American marker, despite numerous obstacles.
One aspect of vide omagazines that discourages mass circulation and potential advertisers is production cost. I t far exceeds that of traditional print. Combined with low circulation and sales, this has resulted in a price for consumers more than five times that of an ordinary magazine.
Despite these obstacles, several US magazines have begun experimenting with this concept and have been somewhat successful. One video magazine, for example, now has about 5,000 subscribers paying $19.95 for each quarterly edition. Another video magazine, Persona, which features celebrity profiles and interviews, has managed to secure enough commercial backing that its publisher, Charles-Terry Goldstein, is able to sell the video for only $4.95.
Essentially, the video magazines now on the market are similar to various types of how-to videos, with a basic exception-video magazines provide viewers with advertising as well as editorial content. Despite the success of several video magazines south of the border, this format has yet to cause a stir in Canada. “There is no other medium that can convey as much absolute information in thoughts, ideas, words and facts as a well-written, well-presented magazine article,” says Jeffrey Shearer, president of Telemedia Publishing in Toronto. “A video magazine could have more impact and it could get across maybe a single, better idea in a better way, but not necessarily deliver it more comprehensively.”
Although Shearer believes that it will be some time before video magazines are produced on a large scale in Canada, his company has created something very close to one. Working with feature articles from Canadian Living, Telemediahas created three video magazines to date dealing with teenage suicide, aging and human rights. Sold to schools, libraries and to Canadian Living readers for up to $75 each, these videos have been fairly successful but not very profitable, says Shearer. As long as consumer demand for such videos remains low and retail rates stay high, Shearer doubts that we will see a full-fledged Canadian video magazine soon.
What may help speed up the development of video magazines, however, is a piece of technology recently made available on this continent. The introduction of small, hand-held VCR’s (courtesy of Japan), are expected to help launch “watchable” magazines in North America by the year 2000.
While we may have to wait until the twenty-first century before video magazines become a household word, recent developments will soon leave some magazines anything but speechless. Merging their technical know-how, two American companies have created Mailcall-a new generation of talking print material. Using microcircuits and tiny speakers, they have developed a module with the capacity to produce human speech and other sounds. Only a little bigger than a dime, this voice module can easily be placed inside a magazine to give its advertising and articles an added dimension.
And while some magazine ads in the near future will try to grab your attention with speech and sound, others may actually resort to name calling. Imagine flipping through a magazine and stopping at an ad for stereo speakers with a headline that reads, “Isn’t it about time you experienced the ultimate in sound quality, Christine?” Scanning through the rest of the magazine, you discover that most of its ads address you by name. A bit far-fetched maybe, but not impossible. Using a computer-controlled bind process called “selective binding,” several magazines have found it possible to create such personalized advertising and to aim specific editorial content to particular markets.
“In a nutshell, what it [selective binding] involves is sending targeted editions of a magazine to individual subscribers,” explains Jim O’Brien, director of field operations for Time Inc. in the U.S. “The way that we would target those different editions could be based on demographics or it could be based on prior purchases, some type of trigger that says you should receive a different type of magazine than someone else.”
Although many magazines have been able to produce different versions of an issue using a split-run process, ~elective binding offers many advantages over the old system. For example, when binding a magazine in a split-run system, the machine must be stopped and reloaded for each different version. With the selective binding process, however, different versions of the magazine can be loaded and bound simultaneously. A computer attached to the binding machine tells it which pages (signatures) to fire in to a particular edition. Aside from controlling the binding process, the computer also keeps track of each specific magazine. When the magazine gets to the end of the line, in stead of placing a paper address label on the cover, the computer instructs the system’s ink-jet nozzles to spray the address of a subscriber who has been assigned in the computer’s program to receive that particular edition. Taking this system one step further, some magazines have used this selective binding process to create a personalized product.
“Along with the computer controlling the feeding of the signatures and spraying the ink-jet labels on your cover,” explains O’Brien, “the computer can also be programmed to spray an ink-jet message inside the magazine.”
Publications such as Time, People and Sports Illustrated are currently using this aspect of selective binding to test the potential of personalized advertising. Time has already produced several personalized ads which have received favorable response from both readers and advertisers. Because of this positive response from both sides, Time launched this project on a national basis with its January 15 issue. At this point, there are no plans to use personalized ads at Time Canada, but if such advertising is successful in the United States, it won’t be long before Canadian magazine readers begin to see their names as part of the advertisements.
Maclean’s is one Canadian publication now experimenting with selective binding. Associate publisher Paul Jones says the magazine, which produces about 16 split runs, could benefit from selective binding. In terms of editorial and advertising content, Jones sees selective binding as an effective way to provide specific information to targeted markets. “Looking at the process from both an advertising and editorial aspect, we certainly see the glimmer of wonderful opportunities,” says Jones, “but we also see some really major question marks.” One problem with the process, he notes, is how to gather the vast amounts of data that selective binding requires.
For O’Brien, the answer lies in data bases. As data bases become more common, it will be easy for an advertiser or a magazine to buy a list and target their subscribers with personalized ads. In Jones’ opinion though, magazines and advertisers who produce targeted or personalized ads could end up losing revenue if subscriber data is not efficiently used. What you don’t want to do, he warns, is limit advertising that could be directed to all subscribers. In the case of personalized ads, Jones has some reservations.. “My concern about personalized ads is that it is a gimmick. The first time you see your name on an ad you will say, ‘Holy smokes, this is amazing.’ The second time it happens you’ll say, ‘uh huh, okay.’ But by the tenth time you’ll be less than impressed.”
It was still raining when Mary sat down to watch the evening news. Scanning the worldwide channel system (over 100 channels in all), she paused as three-dimensional images of striking workers in Australia filled the holographic screen. As she pressed the info switch on her remote, the channel, program name and broadcast time flashed onto the screen. She raised the volume, and leaned back to watch “Sydney A.M.”
Current advances in broadcast technology and increasing competition among cable, independent and network news broadcasts point to a new generation of broadcast news. The proliferation of cable television and the rapid developments in satellite technology have allowed viewers, once dependent on the larger networks for news and information, to choose from a wide variety of options.
Figuring prominently in these options are independent networks. The local stations provide a greater range of localized national and international news and are beginning to figure in the decline of network news ratings. Armed with satellite technology, local news, stations have been able to improve the quality of their broadcasts to levels almost indistinguishable from those of the large network broadcasts. Reduced costs and increased availability of satellites have allowed independent broadcasters in Canada to survive and prosper in a highly competitive market. “Satellite technology has been a great benefit for us,” says John Best, vicepresident of news and public affairs at CHCH, Hamilton. “Not only do we now have a reliable and very competitive bureau in Ottawa because of this technology, but you can turn on CHCH and the top news story of the day that is happening on CBC is happening on our station.”
Helping the independents stay competitive are organizations like the Independent Satellite News (ISN) which give stations access to national and international stories. Providing its members (CHCH-T~ CITV in Edmonton, ATV in the Maritimes, CityTV in Toronto, TV A in Montreal and BCTV) with an Ottawa bureau along with an agreement to share regional stories, ISN has allowed these local stations to offer their viewers everything from local stories to national and international news. For Best, ISN is “a bullet in the gun” that has enabled independent stations to gather news on a much broader scale. While independent news outfits are not always able to keep up with the networks’ every achievement, this healthy competition, along with developments in technology have encouraged the independents to improve -which benefits everyone.
Although this competition between local, network and cable news broadcasts has yet to influence Canadian broadcasters one can point to developments in the United States to see where television news is headed. In an effort to keep their audiences tuned in, American network news is slowly embracing the philosophy of tabloid journalism.
“If present trends continue, it [Canadian television news] is going to be more and more entertainment and less and less real, hard news,” says former Global anchor Peter Trueman.
Appalled by the current state of broadcast journalism, he praises Canadian news broadcasts for not having deteriorated as much as those in the US. Because of this, Trueman believes Canadian broadcasters have a chance to stop their imminent slide into what CTV anchor Lloyd Robertson refers to as “sleaze, tease, slash and trash” journalism.
One way to put on the brakes, says Trueman, is to move to a longer and more comprehensive newscast. “Despite the fact this is the age of communications, where more information is available than ever before, people are relying on the medium which can supply them with only a tiny fraction of the news. If that’s the medium we’re relying on now to make intelligent decisions about the world we live in, we’re in serious trouble.”
Trueman would like to see longer programs in which stories are discussed and debated at length. Similarly, several American networks are looking at ways to update and improve the traditional newscast format. One popular idea would see broadcasts featuring two or three major stories of the day discussed at length by experts, critics and anchors.
In terms of the look of twenty-first century newscasts, CRTC Commissioner and Ryerson broadcast instructor Gail Scott believes there will be a greater trend toward live-to-air formats in which “any story, anywhere is capable of being broadcast live-to-air as it happens.” And with futurists predicting that by the mid twenty-first century, households will have access to over 500 worldwide channels, we will have more than our share of news from all over the world in all languages, at all times-as it happens.
It was almost 11 p.m. when Mary crawled into bed. Inserting a video disk into a slot in her night table, she arranged her pillows in a comfortable position and leaned back to watch the documentary on the screen overhead. As the monitor came alive with images of the twentieth century, she closed her eyes to the clicking of the reporter’s typewriter keys and the frenzied shouts of a newsroom in the midst of an important breaking story. Within minutes, she had fallen asleep to the soft murmurs of the printing presses keeping time with the falling rain.