The newspaper visionary and the skeptical student

Selectric
The 1970s vintage IBM Selectric typewriter

I was sitting in a news writing class at Abilene Christian University in 1977 when I heard something so preposterous that it has stuck with me for more than 40 years.

Our professor, Dr. Charlie Marler, speculated about the future of the newspaper industry. He said that some day we could get our news on a TV -like screen and have the choice to print out the stories that we wanted to read.

No one laughed out loud, but I had a good laugh to myself. Yeah, right, I thought. Not sure where Dr. Marler came up with this kooky idea.

At the time, the IBM Selectric typewriter was cutting edge technology for journalists. We were privileged to be able to type our stories on one in the late 1970s for The Optimist, ACU’s student newspaper.

Fast forward four decades.  We can now see how dead-on Dr. Marler’s prediction was in the 1970s.

The fact that most of the world now gets its news instantaneously via a screen attached to a computer, tablet or phone made my old college professor appear to be a modern-day Nostradamus.

The rapid decline of the newspaper industry has been well documented. From my perspective, it began in the late 1990s as the public began finding news sources online and accelerated in the 2000s when WiFi became ubiquitous and smart phone use proliferated.

In fact, I accepted an early retirement offer in 2008 because my employer, The Oklahoman, reduced its workforce that year by 150 people or so. That ended a 30-year newspaper career that I launched upon graduation from ACU in 1978.

The Oklahoman was (and I think remains) the largest newspaper in the state. It has undergone multiple rounds of reductions in the years since I left.

All of which led to this week’s announcement by The Oklahoman. Beginning on March 26, it would no longer print Saturday editions.

The paper will be “digital only” on Saturdays, meaning it will be found only on your screen. A host of other daily newspapers owned by the Gannett corporation have announced the end of print Saturday editions on the same date.

You called it 40-plus years ago, Dr. Marler. I’m pretty sure that the “digital only” newspaper model eventually will eliminate print publication on most other days of the week.

Maybe the Sunday edition will be the only day we can actually get our hands on a printed newspaper. If we’re lucky.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so skeptical of Dr. Marler’s prediction at the time I heard it. Because cartoonist Chester Gould, an Oklahoma native, had introduced an even bigger fantasy for his Dick Tracy comic strip back in the 1940s.

It was a two-way communications device worn on the wrist.

Dick Tracy
Dick Tracy using his two-way wrist communicator.

I was a huge fan of the Dick Tracy comic strip as a kid and infatuated by the device that Tracy wore on his wrist through which he had instantaneous communications.

The future was right there on the funny pages for decades and we didn’t recognize it.

Gould’s fantasy device became reality when the Apple Watch debuted in 2015. Today, millions of people wear Apple’s incredible two-way communication device on their wrists.

Not sure who laughed at Chester Gould’s vision when it appeared in the Dick Tracy comic in the 1940s.

Or who was laughing aside from me at the outrageous prediction of Dr. Charlie Marler in a 1970s ACU classroom.

But no one’s laughing now.

Published by

jimstafford

I'm an Oklahoma City-based freelance writer with interests in Oklahoma startup community, Apple Inc, OKC Thunder & Texas Rangers.

One thought on “The newspaper visionary and the skeptical student”

  1. Love this. Course I was right behind you banging out o’colly stories on onion paper. Here’s your alternative head. Print journalism: he future was right there on the funny pages for decades and we didn’t recognize it.

    On Fri, Jan 14, 2022 at 6:07 PM Jim Stafford’s BlogOKC wrote:

    > jimstafford posted: ” I sitting in a news writing class at Abilene > Christian University in 1977 when I heard something so preposterous that it > has stuck with me for more than 40 years. Our professor, Dr. Charlie > Marler, speculated about the future of the newspaper industry.” >

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