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Early Role of Computers

Since the early 1950s, computers have played a major role in journalism and mass communication. As early as 1956, computers were used to analyze political polling data and national election returns.

In the beginning, only the largest media organizations could afford computer-based technology. Today, computers are present in virtually every newsroom in the country. Journalists use computer technology in three major areas: (a) gathering information to be used in news stories; (b) producing newspaper and magazine articles and television or radio newscasts; and (c) distributing news stories and programs to the general public. Prior to the introduction of computers in journalism, news deadlines had to be set early enough for the material to be produced, published or recorded, and disseminated in a timely manner. The use of computers in journalism now allows the very latest news to appear in print or on the air–as well as in online form via the Internet.

Computers Enter the Newsroom

Newspapers began using computers in the early 1970s. These were large mainframe machines designed specifically to be used for copyediting and typesetting to produce the actual newspaper pages. Initially, computers were not used to gather the news, whether for print or for broadcast use.

Computers first appeared in television newsrooms in the early 1980s. As was the case in print journalism, the first television news computers were proprietary machines that, unlike today's personal computers, were designed to perform a single function. One of the first proprietary television newsroom computers was manufactured by Dynatech Newstar. It allowed broadcast reporters to write scripts and read wire stories. Later versions of the program added the ability for newscast producers to organize newscasts and create detailed rundowns of the news program's content.

In the late 1980s, the computer systems shifted from proprietary hardware and software to personal desktop computers as PCs and Macintosh computers became more powerful. Today, virtually all newspaper, television, and radio news content is produced using computer terminals or notebook computers. These computers connect the newsroom with other parts of the media production process. Page layout software–such as Quark Express, Adobe PageMaker, and InDesign–has streamlined the production of newspapers by making it possible for entire pages to be created easily on the desktop. In television, computers can transmit production information, including on-screen graphics and closed-captioning text, directly to the control room for use on the air.

In the mid-1990s, desktop computers became powerful enough to handle the creation of multimedia products such as pictures, graphics, video, and sounds. Just as desktop publishing changed the way page layouts were created, programs like Adobe Photoshop changed the way in which media companies created graphics and pictures. Prior to the use of computers, newspapers used traditional photographic film and chemicals in "wet" darkrooms to create pictures. By the early 2000s, many newspapers used digital cameras to capture photographs and "digital" darkrooms to process them.

Digital Graphics and Audio

In television, the first computer-based graphics and video editing systems appeared in the early 1990s. Like other computer applications, the first systems were based on propriety hardware and were extremely expensive. It was not uncommon for a television graphics computer hardware and application to cost more than $250,000. Early computer-based, or non-linear, video editing programs were equally expensive. Now, programs such as Apple Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere are affordable for many hobbyists, as well as television stations and video production companies.

Non-linear video editing is replacing traditional tape-to-tape editing in which scenes were physically recorded from one videotape recorder to another. With computer-based editing, the pictures can be assembled electronically on a computer screen. Some television stations, such as the Gannett Corporation's WKYC in Cleveland, Ohio, are instituting an all-digital workflow. Video for news stories is converted to a digital format as soon as the reporter gets back to the station after covering an event. The digital video is then available to everyone in the news production process (reporters, photographers, editors, producers, and promotions department) via networked desktop computers. This speeds up the production process and makes it possible for last minute changes to be made in the news programs.

Computers are also used by radio stations to create digital audio. News reporters can edit interviews with newsmakers and add commentary from reporters without having to splice the audiotape physically or record it from one tape recorder to another.

Computer Assisted Reporting

Journalists also use computers to gather information for stories. The term for this function is "computer assisted reporting." For example, reporters can sift through complicated databases, such as census information supplied by the U.S. government to gather specific information about individual communities. Computer assisted reporting can help journalists to spot trends in a community, such as an increase in cancer rates among a certain segment of the population or a decrease in the number of young people who are planning to attend college. Computer assisted reporting can also be used to examine and investigate police statistics, such as the number of traffic citations that have been issued to public officials for which the fines were never paid.

The Internet provides a major source of information for journalists, particularly when they are working on a breaking story. For example, there are several aviation-related web sites that reporters can turn to for current and background information after a major airplane crash. These web sites can help reporters collect technical information about the type of airplane involved and its maintenance history. Many sites are also available to help reporters gather scientific, geographical, historical, and health-related information.

News Online

The latest use of computers in journalism is to disseminate information via sites on the World Wide Web. Most major newspapers, television networks, local television stations, and major radio stations have web sites that feature news content. It is possible to "read" almost any newspaper in the world if it is available on the Internet. Newspaper and television companies have tried several business models to make money with their web sites. In early tests, however, most journalism web sites have not been profitable. Surveys indicate that most people are, as yet, unwilling to pay for web-based news content. Many media web sites rely on on-screen advertising for their revenue. In most cases, however, the advertising revenue does not support the cost of producing the web material.


Many people turn to electronic newspapers to learn the events of the day. The biggest advantage of e-newspapers over their print counterparts is that they can be updated frequently with the latest details of a story.


The Future

It is difficult to determine what effect computers will have on journalism in the future. A generation ago, only large newspaper companies had the economic muscle to publish a daily newspaper. Today, anyone with a page layout program and access to the World Wide Web can reach readers around the world. Likewise, the high cost of video production used to mean that only television stations and networks could afford to produce programs. The development of affordable desktop video has changed that, too. As Internet bandwidth increases, more and more companies will be able to produce their own video programs and distribute them over the World Wide Web. This is a far cry from those early mainframe computers used on election night in 1956.

Gary Hanson

2. Write down the answers to the following questions:

1) What was the early role of computers and how are they used now by journalists?

2) How did computers appear first in the newsroom?

3) Can you name computer’s functions in television?

4) Why is it possible to create digital audio?

5) What computer programmes can be used to examine and investigate statistics?

6) What is the latest use of computers in journalism?

3. Enlarge your vocabulary. Translate the following words and phrases into the native language:

1) computer-based technology;

2) television or radio newscasts;

3) via the Internet;

4) page layouts;

5) a television graphics computer hardware;

6) to capture photographs;

7) non-linear video editing;

8) an all-digital workflow;

9) to splice the audiotape physically;

10) computer assisted reporting;

11) web sites that feature news content;

12) on-screen advertising;

13) revenue;

14) e-newspapers;

15) access to the World Wide Web.

4. Match the words to their definitions:

a) journalism;

b) computer;

c) web site;

d) broadcast;

e) newspaper;

f) internet;

g) survey;

h) advertising;

i) reporter;

j) digital.

1) occupation of a journalist, presentation of news through the media; writing which is written for publication in a journal;

2) machine that computes, machine that processes data;

3) home page on the Internet, HTML document on the Internet;

4) transmit over the radio; publicize, advertise;

5) a sheet of paper printed and distributed, at stated intervals, for conveying intelligence of passing events, advocating opinions, etc.; a public print that circulates news, advertisements, proceedings of legislative bodies, public announcements, etc.;

6) worldwide computer network that allows communication and data transfer between people connected to it;

7) a particular view; an examination, especially an official examination, of all the parts or particulars of a thing, with a design to ascertain the condition, quantity, or quality;

8) paid, one-way communication through a medium in which the sponsor is identified and the message is controlled by the sponsor. Variations include publicity, public relations, etc.. Every major medium is used to deliver these messages, including: television, radio, movies, magazines, newspapers, video games, the Internet (see Internet advertising), and billboards.

9) newsman, journalist, broadcaster, one who gathers information and writes news reports

10) representing numbers or non-numeric symbols such as letters or icons, for input, processing, transmission, storage, or display

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