When I was a student in the School of Journalism at the University of North Carolina, professors and textbooks talked about the future of newspapers with wildly futuristic visions. Some sources proposed newspapers that would be delivered to your house via telephone wires or broadcast frequencies and printed out in your home on some sort of personal printing press. Others envisioned a newspaper that would appear on your television, and you would be able to read the newspaper by sitting in front of the TV.
All these fantasies were widely dismissed by students and professors alike. The public would not want to give up the printed newspaper that had been part of American life for 200 years. How would you divide up the sections of these news platforms with each family members getting to read a section at the time? That home printing press would be expensive and would fill an entire room. Current technologies couldn't possibly handle the abundance of information contained in newspapers to squeeze that info onto a home printing press or a TV screen. The broadcast or wire transmission of this volume of news would clog the air waves and phone lines and make them collapse from the volume.
The traditional printed newspaper, available for hundreds of years, should be good enough for another few hundred years, most everyone thought, perhaps until messages can be transmitted directly to the brain by brain waves or thoughts transmission.
Earlier this week, I decided not to trudge through the rain to the end of the driveway to pick up my copy of the Raleigh newspaper. Instead, I sat comfortably inside, drank my coffee and read the News and Observer online version on my antiquated, first-generation, hand-me-down iPad.
This technology, far superior to anything the textbooks and professors of the 1960s ever dreamed of, is satisfying and near-perfectly replicates the print version of the newspaper. I see each page as it appears in print. I click on a story I want to read, and it enlarges to a comfortable reading size. I tap to turn the pages. I get to see every story that's in the print edition but without getting soaked while walking to the end of the driveway.
This technology and its cousins have given us a parallel means, arguably a better means, of reading the morning newspaper. At the same time, technology has destroyed the business model of traditional newspapers. Classified advertising, which once consumed a dozen or more pages of high-dollar income for newspapers every day, has now retreated to specialty websites that are searchable and cheaper than anything print newspapers could offer.
As a member of the last generation raised on print newspapers, I am often shocked that young people don't feel a need to read a newspaper, in whatever form. Television and the internet, including news sites on that phone in your pocket (I have one of those, too), have made information more accessible but, often, less enlightening and less reliable than traditional newspapers. Younger generations seem less connected to local, national and world events because their exposure to "news" is selective and often slanted.
Journalism professors of the 1960s were wrong about the future of newspapers. The great cataclysm came sooner than expected and in a way no one could have imagined 50 years ago. Many thousands of newspaper jobs, including one I held, have disappeared. No home printing press, no TV newspaper but a different medium has disrupted newspapers, which are still trying to find a means of providing information to the public in a profitable, reliable way.