The ‘future of news’ from 18 years ago.

The prophet spoke in the fall of 1992. 
Cassandra was alive in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  As Cassandra warned the Trojans,  she was ignored.  You, the news executive, were warned. And you ignored it  The World Wide Web destroyed your business model.

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I am cleaning out old files and found a proposal from the MIT Media Lab in 1992 for a “News in the Future” study consortium, with a prospective launch date of Feb. 1, 1993.

Here is what the executive abstract said:

When we think of news, we think of how we receive it: by newspaper , magazine, television and radio.  We think of the range of coverage from  international to our local neighborhood.  And we think of various categories like sports, weather and finance. The organizing elements come from the information provider, broadcasting to a demographic  group, large or small. The delivery of news is usually funded by advertising, resulting in a kind of roulette for the advertiser and noise for the reader.  In the future the consumer will decide  if the output is to be audio, video or print.  The organizing element will be the consumer.  And advertisements  will be welcome news.  How will this transformation  of the passive to the active consumer happen?

Well, the transformation was brought by something called the Internet (which was around in 1992 but not mentioned in the proposal ).  

The organizing element is the consumer.

They were right.   The nine page document gives what may one of the first references to the “Daily Me.”

Some more gems

One heading More than keywords can say, calling (in academic language)  ways of finding the conceptual relationships between keywords.   And behold,  then came Google.

Here is what the proposal says about story telling, predicting:

a story teller system produces narrative tailored to what is knows –and learns– of a consumer’s  background, preferences and interests. Stories emerge dynamically as the system mediates between the user and the element.  Questions and criticisms  yield new sequences of video, sound and explanation in reply.

The sounds a little like User Generated Content.   Twitter is a dynamic information system where the media and the citizen exchange information with immediacy in real time, as the events in Haiti have shown. Youtube recuts present “new sequences of video and sound.”
Blogs present questions and criticisms which often have to be answered and also create new sequences of explanation.

There is one idea that is still  pending and still debated.  The last item in the proposal “The Feel of Paper”

Printing on paper is a mature, ubiquitous and very successful  technology for information display, Among its strengths are low cost, robust  portability, high resolution and contrast and its intuitive tactile  user interface.  ON the other hand, it suffers from severe limitations  of both permanence  (the information cannot be easily modified) and impremanence (the  information is destroyed  if the paper is destroyed)  Existing digital information  systems easily remedy thse constraints but fail  to capture many of the strengths of paper. We will be exploring  user force sensing  and generation to provide  tactile  I/O  for information systems(such as flipping pages or locating markers), hybrid active/passive display materials for more accessible portability and conceivably reusable paper for printing in the home.

Will the launch of the Apple tablet later this week solve that dilemma, providing an “intuitive tactile user interface.”  Or will it be another cold piece of technology? We’ll know soon.

If the Trojans had listened to Cassandra, they would not have brought the horse within the walls of the city. 

While not all the work from the MIT media lab has come to pass, as predicted, in the beginning there were those words on nine pages of  laser printing, that if at least some executives had considered a possible prophecy, perhaps the news business would not see the walls breached and the kingdoms falling.