1993 - 2002 A Decade of Incredible Change in Newspaper Technology

by Kevin Slimp, December 2002

1993 - 2002  A Decade of Incredible Change in Newspaper Technology

Anyone remember the original Power Macs?
The past two decades have introduced unparalleled changes in technology, which have significantly altered the way we create newspapers. Beginning with the introduction of the Macintosh in January 1984 - with an amazing speed of 8 MHz at a cost of $2,500 - and followed in the same year by PostScript level 1, the decade prior to 1993 brought incredible change to our industry. When sales of Macintosh computers started to fall back in 1985, Apple responded with the first laser printer to take advantage of Postscript, the Laserwriter. While similar to the HP LaserJet, the Postscript controller allowed the Laserwriter to produce “typeset quality” pages. When Aldus, later purchased by Adobe, created the first professional desktop publishing program - PageMaker - in 1985, we knew everything was going to change. Quark soon followed with the release of its flagship layout program, Quark Xpress, in 1987.

Which brings us to 1993. 1993 was a landmark year for newspaper technology. On March 22, 1993 the first Pentium processors (60 and 66 MHz versions) were released by Intel. These chips contained the equivalent of 3.1 million transistors. Pentiums were so much faster than anything else we were using at the time that a lot of Mac users began eyeing their PC counterparts with envy. In the same year, Mosaic, the first graphics-based Web browser became available. Traffic on the Internet expanded at a 341,000% annual growth rate!

1993 was the year Tennessee Press Service decided to take a serious look at remote ad transfer. It’s hard to imagine that almost all newspaper ads not designed in-house were either mailed, sent by overnight services, or hand-delivered to individual newspaper offices. Newspapers would wax or paste the ads onto pages. The effort by TPS led to the development of the first ad transfer system using the new PDF technology. With the Internet still in its infancy, press services began to develop BBS systems to use as mechanisms for ad transfer. TPS was soon followed by press associations in Kentucky, Alberta, Minnesota, Alabama and other states who had BBS and Web ad transfer systems in place by 1995. AdSend, a national ad transfer system created by Associated Press, began to make its presence known around this same time.

1994 ushered in even more changes. Postscript moved up to level 2 in 1994. This meant a significant boost in printing speed and reliability. Postscript errors were nightmares for newspapers printing to imagesetters in the early 90’s. Level 2 reduced the number of errors and made it possible to separate colors from composite color files. This meant colors could be separated automatically from Quark Xpress and PageMaker files without having to work through a third-party program. 1994 also marked the year of the first color digital camera for under $1,000. The Apple Quicktake 100 could hold up to eight 640 X 480 images. The price of $749 (US) included a built-in flash. Larger newspapers started jumping on the digital camera bandwagon, purchasing the AP/Kodak cameras based on the Nikon N90. These SLR cameras, which had resolutions over 1 megapixel, sold for $17,950 (US). Later the same year, Kodak released the DCS 420 series which sold for $11,000 (US). The Vancouver Sun converted to all digital photography in 1995.

1994 was another year of great change in computers. The first PowerMac, the 6100, was introduced in 1994. I purchased a PowerMac 6100 in 1994 and never looked back. Until then I preferred Pentium computers because they were so much faster than the older Macs. But the PowerMac changed all that. With such a huge leap in speed and accessibility, newspapers began to jump on the pagination bandwagon in large numbers.

In February 1995, I was invited to speak about new technology at a large newspaper conference. When I remarked that the Syquest drive was on its deathbed, I was almost laughed out of the room. It was incomprehensible to most desktop publishers that anything other than Syquest could ever be the standard for removable storage. When I pulled out a new Zip cartridge and described how this small cartridge could hold 100 Mb of information at a cost of less than $20 per disk, everyone quit laughing. The bulky Syquest cartridges we had been using held from 44 to 88 Mb of information at a cost three to four times the cost of a Zip disk. This meant it was possible to store all our files. Syquest cartridges were so expensive, most newspapers reused them several times over. The Zip disk made it possible to keep copies of our important files at a price most newspapers could afford. Syquest tried a couple of ill-fated challenges, most notably the EZ135 drive and the EZFlyer, but the Zip Drive had taken hold and Syquest filed for bankruptcy in 1998.

Since the development of the Zip Drive, desktop publishers have insisted on faster, larger, less expensive removable storage devices. With the development of the CD burner late in the decade, users got their wish for a less expensive storage device. CDs could hold 700 Mb of information on a disk, at a cost less than 20 cents per CD. This made it possible to do daily backups, keeping every file on CD for permanent storage. Today, with Firewire drives holding over 500 Gigabytes of information - that’s approximately 10 G4 hard drives - mass storage is truly a reality.

In 1998, Postscript advanced to level 3. This upgrade was marked by even fewer errors than Postscript level 2. Other advantages included the ability to support up to 4096 gray levels per color, in-RIP color separation of composite PDF files, and the ability to convert non-CMYK colors to CMYK separations. This meant newspapers could convert their pages to CMYK composites, much less time consuming than pre-separating the colors, then transfer the files to a remote print site. Combined with increased access to the Internet and high-speed providers, newspaper printers in Western Canada and Southeast United States jumped on this feature quickly and began printing large numbers of newspapers remotely.

Today full pagination is the standard, rather than the exception. Darkrooms began to disappear a few years ago and newspapers around the world now use digital cameras with great success. The number of imagesetters being used by individual newspapers has increased significantly over the past five years, thanks in great part to the improvement in Postscript. Windows-based and Mac computers are almost interchangeable. CD burners are beginning to be replaced by DVD burners, which have the capacity for far greater storage. Reporters do much of their research on the Internet. Newspapers reach many of their readers over the Internet. The pace of change is almost overwhelming.

Where are we headed? With Postscript and PDF technology improving by leaps, we can expect more improvements and fewer problems in page layout and printing. With increased high-speed connections, we can anticipate greater numbers of readers online. With better digital cameras, at lower prices, the newspaper darkroom will surely be a thing of the past in the coming decade. With improvements in voice recognition software and personal digital assistants (PDAs), reporters will write articles in the same way we now use cell phones, while driving. In short, there will be more changes in the next ten years than there have been in the past ten. I may need to take a break.