by Jim Riggs
September 22, 1980
The Computer Age Arrives
The Post-Journal has moved into the computer world almost completely and suddenly. The only paper involved with the P-J is the paper on which it is printed. We no longer use typewriters but instead program our stories into a video display terminal (VDT) which is a television screen with a typewriter keyboard like you see on ‘Lou Grant.’
The entire operation makes paper unnecessary. You don’t need paper to write stories, headlines or notes because everything can be done on the VDT. You can even send notes to other people through the system and the other person’s unit will signal on the screen that there is a new entry in his file.
This lack of paper will take some time getting used to. I have one staff member who’s pile of notes left for me in the morning sometimes exceeds the pile of sports copy produced the previous night. And now when we get mad after writing a bad lead we can’t even vent our frustrations by tearing the paper out of the typewriter and angrily throwing it away because there is no paper to typewriter. Of course we could use the substitute action of throwing our VDT on the floor or just hitting it but with a price tag of a couple thousand dollars it wouldn’t be a good idea. Perhaps the remedy is to keep scrap paper handy for crumbling when we make mistakes.
All this is quite an abrupt change and one of the sports staffer’s wasn’t looking forward to it. It is rumored he went on a drinking binge when the initial starting date for the new system had to be postponed. But soon the technicians were here installing the equipment and just the sight of a VDT made him break out in a cold sweat. The technicians do their work in the wee hours of the morning so one day when they came into the building around 4 a.m. he had no idea who they were because he hadn’t been told. He assumed they were burglers and called the police which led many to believe he feared the new system so much he tried to have the installers arrested. But not even the police could stop progress and now the new system is in operation and so is that staff member.
That is a relief because I expected to come in the first morning after he had used the VDT and find him hanging from the ceiling with the electric cord of his typewriter wrapped round his neck. He would have been clutching his beloved typewriter in his arms with a note saying, ‘Long live the typewriter!”’ However, that would have been impossible because the typewriters disappeared from here quicker than Ron LeFlore taking off for second.
This new system is really remarkable and actually easier than working with a typewriter when you get the hang of it. The VDT can even communicate with you! To start up the unit you must type in your name and the machine talks back by displaying ‘Password?’ on the screen. If you don’t respond with the correct password, forget it. You can’t use the VDT without your proper password.
All of this password business reminds me of those World War II movies that showed American soldiers checking out a possible spy. ‘Who is Babe Ruth?’, they would ask or ‘What team plays in Brooklyn?’ With the rapid rate of expansion in professional sports today if I was asked similar questions by the VDT the odds are I would answer incorrectly and that could mean trouble. These mysterious machines might even have the power to kill!
But the VDT’s are really a bunch of old softies that do not like killing. If you want to kill a story the VDT asks ‘Kill?’ It makes you feel like a criminal but after a momentary feeling of guilt you press the correct keys and the VDT announces ‘has been killed.’ It is a gruesome reply that means the story has been sent to the big computer wastebasket in the sky.
The communication aspect is a bit of a hindrance to me because one of the nice things about coming to work between 4 and 5 in the morning is that there is no one here to talk to. Like many, I am an early morning grouch who is not in the mood for much talk before noon. Now when I come in I have to communicate with a machine. At least it is not verbal.
Many of the opponents of this new system were coming up with all kinds of possible things that could go wrong such as the VDTs would cause your hair to fall out or slowly make your brain turn to Jell-O. However, there is one side effect that we have been told will go away. After watching the screen for a while it affects your eyes and causes some white object to appear pink. Employees who were not using the VDTs thought we were all nuts and looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. Actually we were but without the glasses.
Luckily, the pinkness goes away after a while or this staff would be writing about the Jamestown High School Pink Raiders or a story would say “The pink-clad Falcons scored….”
Everyone seems to be well adjusted to the system and things are going smoothly. But the sports department is still trying to make some additional adjustments to the VDTs. When no one else is here at night we are working feverishly to find out how to pick up television signals on the screen. Then we could watch Monday Night Football like to rest of the world. And we would also have a big advantage. The VDT’s have no sound.