Blast From the Past: Newspapers by Computer!


This fascinating 1981 news report recounts a sort of first contact between print media on the Internet:

Video via Jon Henke's Twitter feed.

Reason contributing editor Tim Cavanaugh looked at the future of investigative journalism here and took after journalistic platitudes here


NEXT: A Quick Correction

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  1. Was that home computer a Trash 80?

    Ah, early 80’s tech. Stone knives and bear skins.

  2. I learned BASIC on a TRS-80, which used a cassette for its memory.

  3. I had a TRS-80, 16K memory, bought for me by my dad (a computer programmer himself), on which I learned BASIC. I believe he still has that sucker. He collects old computers, and has an original Fat Mac (one with the designer’s signatures in the interior casing) as well, not to mention an IBM XT, a DEC terminal, the original Windows 95 CD, and more.

  4. 10 HOME
    20 SWEET
    30 GOTO 10

  5. There it was, right in front of them. Money quote at 1:00-1:09.

    The only thing many news pros have suffered from since is a failure of their imaginations…why wouldn’t we copy the downloaded news onto paper for storage…why wouldn’t it always take 2 hours to download and cost $5 an hour…why wouldn’t it always be text only…and why wouldn’t the news always be reported by pros?

  6. I learned BASIC on the CoCo2 with the cassette storage system too. Spent many hours in the school library with the TRS-80’s. Just managed to pass Spanish by writing a flash-card program for the teacher as extra credit.

  7. 16K? What kind of highfalutin’ childhood did you have? Me, I was lucky if I had 8K.

    Later on, I sold Kaypro computers (one of the so-called luggables). That was just before PCs took off–around 1983. I remember when the Kaypro-10 came out, which had–gasp!–a built-in 10 MB harddrive. Yowza! Unfortunately, I was just a high school kid at the time and couldn’t afford the $2,000 price tag, even with my discount. On all the systems, 64K memory was as good as it got, I think. It did use the old CP/M OS, which MS-DOS ripped off.


    Ah, the most popular program ever. Someone should’ve patented and sold that one.

  8. Perhaps one day, we will be able to access the daily newspaper over the computer, just like that news report predicted.

  9. Jesus Epi, how fucking old are you?

  10. I learned BASIC on a TRS-80, which used a cassette for its memory.

    Me Too…It was my friends comp. and we would write code on it.

    Then I got my very own Commodore VIC-20.

    Fun times

  11. I remember being jealous–jealous!–of someone with a color monitor. Meaning more than two colors. Ah, CGA.

  12. Later on, I sold Kaypro computers (one of the so-called luggables). That was just before PCs took off–around 1983.

    Hah! I used a KayPro at one of my journalism internships in college. I actually took it home once. I couldn’t believe they let me do that.

    This would have been ’85-ish. The memory is a bit fuzzy around that time.

  13. 640?200 resolution, 16 colors, yeah, that was something.

  14. Back in the mid-80’s, my office time-wasting consisted of getting baseball scores and stats off the Telex.

  15. 16 colors? I only remember orange.

    Ah, but closing up the keyboard and securing it to the main housing with a resounding CLACK using those shiny metal hinge-snaps…that was manly hardware!

  16. “A mojo. It’s a very modern machine that transmits pages over the telephone. It only takes eighteen minutes a page!”

  17. Jesus Epi, how fucking old are you?

    I got that computer when I was 8 or so. I started my programming career early. Besides, I guarantee I’m younger than ProL.

  18. JW,

    I meant the CGA I was jealous of, not the Kaypro. It had a green monochrome display back when I sold it. It probably went to a color display once they started making clones, but that was after my time.

  19. Younger and more foolish, Episiarch.

    My dad, who was an electrical engineer/programmer (well, is, but is retired now), used to bring home a TI Silent 700, which used thermal paper as a “monitor” and an acoustic coupler for the modem connection. Which meant that you had to buy rolls of expensive thermal paper to see anything, and you had to take your phone and jam it into the coupler to connect to the mainframe.

    I used to play Colossal Cave Adventure and Star Trek on that system. And I thought I was swimming in cream at the time.

  20. Speaking about Henke, maybe someone from Reason could get him to explain why I was banned from TheNextRightDotCom. I posted a few dozen blog posts there over about the past year, and several emails and two phone calls to SorenDayton and PatrickRuffini – both of whom told me they’d look into it and get back to me – have resulted in no explanation. I want to know the name of the person who banned me and I want a detailed explanation. After I get that I’ll deal with the issue of my copyrighted content.

  21. You got banned for being a repetitive and disagreeable fuck. Shut the fuck up, Lonewacko.

  22. Say, Lonewacko, what was your first computer?

  23. Lonewacko:


    You don’t have to be personable in comment threads at these political sites. You don’t have to be everyone’s pal, or be quick with the funny ripostes, or join in all the merriment. (Indeed, as a quick aside, I think the tendency of political blogs to evolve into “communities” can be detrimental to the whole thing. Too much energy winds up getting devoted to personal tangents, inside/running jokes and idiotic crap like “Urkobold” and what have you, rather than to actual political debate.)

    So while you don’t need to be all buddy-buddy at these places, you can’t just be a spammer either. You can’t just parachute into every thread with tenuously related posts, filling them with repetitive calls for this-or-that, rarely engaging with the actual line of debate at hand, complete with a user handle that itself amounts to spam.

    If you don’t understand why that stuff irritates the denizens of these various sites, then I don’t know what to tell you. Honestly, man — you really need to figure out that it’s not all about you, or your site, or your campaigns. These places do not exist to service your needs. Learn how to engage properly, and it’ll work out better for you and everyone else.

  24. I like The Urkobold. His pronouncements positively glimmer. Plus the all-uppercase makes it easy to read.

  25. My dad used to work for Sperry (aka Sperry Univac) & Unisys as a field engineer, fixing massive mainframe computers. When the PC’s first came out, he was one of the few field engineers who’d even look at them. The rest thought it beneath them.

    He got an 8088 PC clone (a Unisys, obviously) in 82 or 83 or so. I remember having to load DOS onto the computer from a floppy.

  26. I damn near flunked the only computer class I ever took (8th grade).We used these.Locked to 3’x3′ varnished 3/4″ plywood boards so we wouldn’t steal ’em and sell the technology to the Soviets for dope money.

  27. Oh, BTW for the young ‘uns – I meant load DOS (the operating system) on to the computer from a floppy every time the computer was booted.

  28. Tom, what a nice, well thought out bit of advice. Unfortunately, you have wasted hte time you spent writing it; others have given him similar advice numerous times – and it has had 0 effect.

  29. SIV – good thing you were already organizing cockfights for your dope money.

  30. My brother had a TRS-80 and instead of learning how to program, I just played games on it. The one I remember the most, not for good reasons, was Madness and The Minotaur. I was only 7 or 8 at the time, but my brother was several years older and we both could not beat that fucking game.

  31. I got that computer when I was 8 or so. I started my programming career early. Besides, I guarantee I’m younger than ProL.

    Just a young whipper-snapper then.

    I graduated college in 1985 with a degree in CS having never, and I mean never, touched a desktop-sized computer. Well except for my mother-in-laws comodore once or twice when I was in college — I didn’t see any real value in it.

  32. idiotic crap like “Urkobold”

    I am confused. Is there anything like the Urkobold??

  33. Tom has convinced me!

    But, seriously, I’ve BeenBannedFrom several sites and HadCommentsDeleted from many more. (In fact, TaNehisiCoates BannedMe for showing how he was wrong.)

    However, the circumstances of TheNextRightDotCom banning are a bit… strange.

    In fact, it’s something Reason might want to look into. Oh, wait, I momentarily forgot: they’re just Beltway hacks.

  34. 24AheadDotCom,

    Enjoyed your site. However your top ten list for reasons why your web traffic has declined is incorrect. I have it under good authority that your lone visitor was deported.

    Seriously though, I really don’t get what you are trying to accomplish by pushing everyone here to ask questions and post them. This isn’t an activist site and most of us have jobs. Productive members of society rarely have the time to submit their grievences to the government. Unfortunately people looking for a hand-out have plenty of time to spare.

    BTW, for everyone else, I got at TRS-80 Model 1 Level 1 4K computer in 1979. I was 11 and learned BASIC. Best gift ever as now I am an underworked over-paid .NET programmer.

  35. highnumber,

    It must be one of them infringers, trading off the Urkobold?’s good name.

    Incidentally, we’ve also trademarked Idiotic Crap?, so our seconds will call on his seconds.

  36. Aw, come on, Lonewacko, can’t we drop politics for one thread? Don’t you have a primitive computer story?

    I have another one. When I was a kid–around ten–my dad bought me a logic circuit doohickey that involved moving wires around on a breadboard to program different games and, well, other stuff I can’t remember. I think the idea was to get me to understand the guts of how computers worked. His plan succeeded, so naturally I took my technical aptitude and tossed it away to go to law school.

  37. I fondly remember the first PC with a hard drive we ever purchased. 20 MB, whoo hoo!!!

    The vendor assured me that we would “never run out of storage”.. ;^)

  38. Urkobold? is a decent joke, when used sparingly on websites other than Well, ok, even then it still sort of sucks.

  39. Heady praise indeed.

  40. First computer here was also a TRS 80.

    Second was an Atari 800, which was not great since everything at that time seemed to be geared towards the Commodore 64.

    Until we got a the external modem…..(evil grin)

  41. I have a couple questions:

    1) Who’s sockpuppeting Lonewacko?
    2) Is Tom’s taint still unwithered?

    And a comment:

    1) Man, some of you guys are OGs. I thought the Atari 2600 my dad got at the Odd Lots in the early ’90s was remarkably old-school.

  42. 1981: “We’re not in it to make money…”
    2009: How’s that workin’ for’ya?

  43. Phlogiston-powered difference engine. That is all.

  44. Didn’t I see almost the same title and subject on Slashdot when I was in high school or college?

  45. Wouldn’t surprise me, Suki. This post also reminded me of something, but for some reason I thought Brendan Fraser and Alicia Silverstone were involved.

  46. Our first TV game console was some version of Pong. But with hockey!

  47. One thing: I’m pretty sure that was not the Internet that guy was connecting to. I don’t believe there was any dial-up to the Internet at that time.

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