History of Computer in the Newspaper Production

Abstract

The newspaper production has undergone various transformation stages since its invention in the 15th century. The use of computers in the 1960s did not only influence the process of production but also the way newspapers disseminated information. Desktop publishing and the Internet were among the notable changes introduced with the use of computers. The computer continues to transform the newspaper production with online and mobile publishing becoming more widespread in the newspaper industry. Therefore, the market players have to identify the way computers influence their industry and come up with the strategies to continue with their business. Some of the technologies are disruptive in their nature as they cause a reduction in readership and a total change in the way the newspapers are produced. The widespread use of hi-tech devices such as smartphones and tablets for accessing information, as well as competing media like television, radio, and social media are influencing the production of newspapers in unprecedented ways. Nevertheless, the positive outlook on the online audience for newspapers is an indication that, with proper re-invention, the newspaper production will continue into the unforeseen future.

The newspapers production began in the 15th century after the discovery of printing by Gutenberg. However, computer use started in the 1960s when the first digital production of a newspaper was successfully launched. The period saw the rampant use of improved typesetting methods. It was heralded by the use of the cathode ray tubes in photocomposition where the images of the characters were created using technology similar to the television picture tubes. The technology for printing newspapers has changed over time since the discovery of mass newspaper printing by Johann Gutenberg in 1456. Most of the changes that have been witnessed considered the printing processes, moving from manual to mechanical printing, Linotype, and other innovations. The technologies such as the Linotype typesetters had a crucial influence on the history of newspaper printing. However, the discovery of more advanced technologies, they became obsolete. Today, such productions are not or rarely used in newspaper printing. The cold type presses marked the end of the hot type era as they were more efficient (Alexander, 1994).

However, even more, efficient technologies such as offset printers came into use, knocking out the preceding technology. One of the most transforming technologies ever discovered in the newspaper printing was a computer with the cathode ray tubes employed for newspaper production. It used technology similar to the one used on television. Many if not all of today’s people read newspapers that have been produced on a computer screen. This fact reduces the need for the production of millions of copies as it used to be in the past. More newspaper readers have welcomed the use of computers in newspaper production with more than half visiting the newspaper websites to read information. However, these changes have come gradually. At a given time, people had to take the necessary steps for introducing computers in the production of newspapers (Napoli, 2013). This paper provides an evaluation of the history of computer use in the production of newspapers. The paper focuses on different computer technologies that have been used in newspaper printing. It also considers the effects that such technologies have had on the readership and circulation of newspapers. The final focus studies the impacts that newspaper production has had on the cultures and lifestyles of the contemporary living environment.

Literature Review on the Newspaper Printing

The newspaper production has a long history that has witnessed many technologies being used in the industry at different times. One of the earliest newspaper production technologies was discovered in the middle of the 15th century. The invention of the hot metal composition marked the first transformative technology in the mass production of newspapers. An important aspect of Gutenberg’s invention was the element of acceptance that this technology received from the people at the time, and which led to high penetration among the newspaper producers (Abel, 2012). The hot metal composition technology that used typefaces in printing has immensely influenced the printing process of the time. The introduction of the mechanical components in 1884 by Ottmar Mergenthaler marked the use of Linotype in newspapers. It involved the production of solid lines of texts that were cast from matrices. The matrices were made of the metal blocks, normally of brass, and had an impression of a letter on it. The technology allowed depression of one key to release a matrice of a character from the storage of 90 characters. This technology was later transferred to a mold-making device with a few rows of matrices being assembled (Hamilton, 2012).

1970: The Pre Computer Era

The modern type alloy was put on the mold over the matrices and hardened the production of a bar of metal depending on the length of the letters that were raised and the impression of that particular letter on the matrices. This type was dumped back into the pot to be melted down for later use. The technology was much faster as compared to its predecessors because the hand-set typesetting required few people to perform the typesetting. Line composition later developed into teletypewriter in 1913. The machine could be attached to a Linotype to control composition using a perforated tape. The tape had punches on a separate keyboard unit and used a tape reader to translate the punched code into electrical signals. The signals were sent to the tape-punching units in different locations through a wire. The duplicate tapes were used in the line-casting machines such as the Linotype. The teletypewriter was the first technology to use electrical signals for sending data. Therefore, it allowed the duplication of information in different locations (Bradshaw & Rohumaa, 2013).

The photo-mechanical composition was an improvement in the typesetting technology that used the photocomposition machines. The machines were fixed with the film disks each with an alphabetical letter, character, or number. The disk could contain two or more different type styles and many machines had been designed to carry more than one film disk. The technology allowed making varying distances between the characters on the film disk. Therefore, it allowed the use of similar negative images for the production of a wide range of type sizes. The technology allowed the rotation of the drum at high speed in the lens located in the front. It allowed the flashlights originating from a stroboscopic to light the source for assigning specific characters. The flashlight and exposure of the film were done quickly so as to stop the effects of the moving negative. The film carrier or the lens system was moved to facilitate the character projection and exposure after the projection until the completion of a single line. The process was repeated in the next line and for as many times as possible until the whole article was completed (Galician, 2013).

The cathode ray tube composition came into use in the 1960s and marked the beginning of the computer used in newspaper printing. This step was a significant improvement in the typesetting technology that used the CRT for photocomposition. The process allowed the creation of the image character on the screen of the CRT using the same techniques as on television. The image was then projected through the lens to form the desired image size on a film or light-sensitive paper. The keyboard function was different from the typesetting function, and it developed into the magnetic tape or punched paper containing the text matter and codes to describe the size, style, and other instructions that were used in typesetting (Brogan, 1998).

The CRT photocomposition was controlled by the type. The final image of every character was stored in each control unit on many CRT machines. The process of scanning was used to read the characters stored in the typesetting; it also converted the data to electrical signals that were transferred to the CRT to display the image of the character. The final image was projected on the film for printing. Other machines allowed performing the analysis of the bits of data and record them magnetically in the memory of the computer. This innovation removed the need for the image character to be produced all over again. The technology allowed for calling a type through the stored magnetic data and translated it into the electrical signals to cause a visual image of the character on the CRT (Fang, 1997).

The advantage of the CRT composition was in the fact that it allowed the storage of many characters in the memory and recalled a higher speed. A more advanced CRT photocomposition method was particularly well suited for newspaper production because of the repetitive characters that have been used in the production of the newspapers. It is still used today. The advanced technology allows the displaying of a video terminal with the keyboard to copy the type. The composition is stored in the magnetic memory and displayed on the CRT. The writer types over the character depending on the need of replacing the already existing ones. Depression of the code button is done automatically when the copy is updated and transmitted directly to a storage area in the computer. The technology allows controlling the spacing and size of the type using the touch key. It is advantageous because it eliminates the time-consuming work of moving the photo composed matter or hot metal type. The computer literally handles all the functions in the CRT composition systems including line justification, hyphenation of words, or even calculation of the depth of the page (Cosgrove, 2006).

The laser technology was introduced into the industry so as to eliminate the sophistication of the computer-controlled phototypesetting. Typesetting can be done using laser beams because the focus of the laser printers is located on a photocopier. The copier uses a very bright light to reflect off the white sections of the paper to an electrically charged photosensitive film. The procedure removes the electric charge temporarily in areas where the film corresponds to the white areas of the page. The toner is supplied to the film with an oppositely charged mechanism to stick parts of the light, which is unaffected and transferred to the paper. The instructions are entered sequentially using the computer word processing software (Sloan & Parcell, 2002).

A copy is printed using a special computer chip in the printer and projects the text onto the film. The laser beam replaces the light that is reflected in an ordinary photocopier and does not move. Instead, the beam is quickly directed across the width of the film through a spinning mirror. This process does not require expensive photosensitive paper. It is also transformative of the newspaper printing technologies as it eliminates the time required for positioning the layout on the board especially in newspaper printing where many single columns are required. The laser technology comes with the layout software programs for allowing automatic positioning of the columns in the laser system. Modern newspapers employ the computer and laser printer systems in their production (Lee, 2011).

1980: The Desktop Computer Publishing

The 1980’s introduction of desktop publishing technology influenced not only newspaper production but also the entire publishing industry. Desktop publishing was revolutionary in the newspaper printing on many fronts. For instance, it allowed the integration of graphic software, word processing software, typesetting technologies, and digital pre-press activities into one center. Consequently, newspaper printers benefited from all of these applications (Cosgrove, 2006). The desktop printing of newspapers allowed the composition work to be done in computer applications. In this way, the customers received a possibility to participate in the typesetting of a newspaper. The technology allowed the use of colored images and graphics in the newspapers. It also introduced better designs and innovative layouts. Moreover, desktop publishing simplified the tasks involved in processing a newspaper that previously required expensive and complicated equipment and human input. The technology allowed combining numerical data, photographs, texts, charts, and all other visual elements in one document printed on the laser printers, more advanced typesetting machines. The technology was the beginning of the low cost and easy printing applications in the newspaper industry (Antikainen, 1993).

Most of the computers in 1980 were character-based systems that offered only a monochrome display of pictures or videos with a few color systems that could allow using several colors. Moreover, software applications were built for single-purpose activities so that creating a chart required switching to a different module or program (Sloan & Parcell, 2002). The computer could also not allow combining the numbers and charts in a single document. Printing was thus limited only to dot-matrix; although the texts were as sharp, the graphics capabilities were not so good. Desktop publishing enabled the printer to engage professional printers and typesetters that were dedicated to printing. The technology allowed the spread of information at a much faster rate as more documents with high quality could have been produced. The high resolution monitors able to display the entire page were fitted with millions of colors. They allowed viewing the document in the exact position as it would appear when printed. Laser printers became the standard method of printing in the newspaper industry as they allowed mixing graphics with high-quality texts and different typefaces (Alexander, 1994).

Disruptive technology in the newspaper printing came about with the moving of the newspapers to the Internet. For a long time, most newspaper printers had not known what to do with the newspapers they printed the previous night as people accessed current news online. The phenomenon could have been attributed to an increase in the use of computer technologies such as desktop publishing that cut down on the time and cost required for the production of a newspaper. Desktop publishing had also tremendously increased the number of people who could publish a newspaper in a real-time way so that the readership was distributed among the emerging producers (Abel, 2012).

Desktop publishing also came with its new tools such as laser printers and software programs that could carry out most of the activities that were done by several people or several tools. It meant that many people were going to lose their jobs in the newspaper industry, as well as many other tools were going to become obsolete or idle with no foreseen use. The desktop publishing brought a revolution in all other industries that depended on the printed information as people were now able to access information in a high-quality format. The new format integrated graphs, pictures, and other elements that were previously not available in the newspapers (Hamilton, 2012).

Desktop publishing has also allowed publishers to cut down on the cost of production as they engaged easier and simpler composition processes that permitted several activities to be done simultaneously. Moreover, desktop publishing has improved the quality of information since the competition became high as newspaper printers started to compete for few customers left. It does not mean that desktop publishing has brought about the plummet in the number of customers, but rather increased the number of people who could print a newspaper. Furthermore, it also allowed faster and easier publishing of books that brought stiff competition to the newspaper industry (Napoli, 2013).

1996: The Network (Internet)

The invention of the Internet together with its widespread use has changed the way people accessed information. The newspaper industry also had to change to remain relevant to the readers. The Internet allowed publishing newspapers online through the Internet. Most newspapers have an online presence on websites where people can access the information needed. The Internet has also facilitated the creation of databases where readers could access the previously published newspapers thus enabling them to go back promptly and read the stories that they might have missed or read a long time ago. The mobile phone revolution also transformed the newspaper publishing as people now started accessing the news sites from their mobile devices (Abel, 2012).

The online industry for newspapers seems to be a classical example of disruptive technology that is going to destroy the conventional model in the newspaper industry that, for a long time, has depended on the physical distribution of the product (Lee, 2011). However, it is evident that newspapers have much valuable content that is acquiring a huge online audience. Newspapers have the largest online audience, being surpassed only by the social networks; the readership is growing rapidly. This fact is contrary to what people assert; they believe that newspapers have not reached success in the online environment. The only challenge to this practice is that the online newspapers do not generate enough revenue from advertisements, unlike the physical newspapers. For a long time, online newspapers had not charged for their content; nevertheless, today they charge the readership fee without affecting the number of readers (Hamilton, 2012).

Conclusion and Discussion

The newspaper industry has witnessed a myriad of changes in the technologies used in newspaper production. Some of the technological advancements such as desktop publishing and use of computers in processing newspapers have positively influenced the industry. It has made it one of the greatest industries to contribute to the civilization of humanity. Nevertheless, other modern changes such as the Internet and the use of mobile devices for accessing information threaten the continued survival of the newspaper. For example, most newspapers carry information on previous incidents or newspapers, but the changing lifestyle and advanced technology combined allows people to access information about incidents as soon as they occur. Furthermore, other sources of information such as radio and television have continued to provide competition to the production and readership of newspapers.

The good news is that newspapers are reinventing themselves in a way that is making them remain relevant in contemporary society. Most newspapers have gone online, and people can access them from wherever they are with the most current news being updated every other minute. The technology has also allowed the introduction of robots to write news about events as soon as they occur. This fact is also affecting the way people read newspapers online. Newspapers also offer some engagement applications to allow readers to comment or share their views about the story that is published in the newspapers. This form of engagement with the readers is revolutionizing the newspaper industry because it puts it to the same level as the other sources of information. Moreover, through the use of online platforms and applications, newspapers are able to reach a wider audience, as well as integrate other media like videos to appeal to readers.

With the possible spread of the robot writers, newspapers are likely to experience another transformative period where computers will be used to generate stories based on the data received. However, the hard copy newspapers will remain on the market as many people are not yet connected to the Internet or able to afford the devices to read newspapers online. The newspaper industry needs to continue integrating the technology in its process to remain relevant in the market and offer information as competitively as the radio or television. Technological advancements will continue to hit the way people communicate but with proper re-invention newspapers are more than likely to remain a notable source of information in the unforeseen future.