An editor friend posted this fascinating news report from 1981 on Facebook about the first newspapers who made their content available online. In the clip, the San Francisco Examiner‘s David Cole says, “This is an experiment. We’re trying to figure out what it means to us as editors and reporters and what it means to the home user.” (30+ years later, Denver Post food editor Kristen Browning-Blas has some thoughts on what it has meant.) Cole adds, “And we’re not in it to make money. We’re probably not going to lose a lot, but we aren’t going to make much either.”
Also amazing to contemplate: there were only 2 to 3,000 computer users in the Bay Area in 1981. A report issued by the US Census in May 2013 explains the American government only started tracking the percentage of households in America that had computers in 1984. That number stood at 8.2%; by 2011, 75.6% had computers. The report also shows 18% of households had internet. In 2011, 71% had internet access at home.
When the Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle advertised the electronic availability of their paper, only 500 in the Bay Area responded with interest. But Richard Halloran, a computer owner at the time, was all for it, predicting electronic news would empower users to more deeply interrogate stories they’re interested in.
Only problem was time and cost. The news reporter notes it took over two hours to receive the entire text of the newspaper by telephone–I’m assuming by telephone they’re referring to an old school version of dial-up–at a ate of $5/per hour to print on “telepaper.” Back then, the newspaper cost 20 cents.