THERE is one sure thing about the future of newspapers: The way we produce them will continue to change.
The basics of getting a story from the White House or the Kremlin to the reader's living room are the same as they were when The Christian Science Monitor was founded in 1908. A reporter on the scene gathers the facts, writes the story, and sends it to the editors. The editors edit and fit the story, assemble the newspaper, and send it to the printer. In the case of the Monitor, the printed newspaper is then mailed to subscribers across the United States and around the world. The difference today is in how these steps are accomplished.
In the Monitor's first few decades, a reporter on the scene would gather the facts and then return to his typewriter in an office, where he would write his story. If he was based in the US, he might then call Boston and dictate the story over the phone to a rewrite desk. If overseas, he would telegraph his report or send it in by mail or courier.
After World War II, the telex made it possible for the correspondent himself, sitting in a bureau office, to send in his story by retyping it on the telex keyboard and making a paper tape, which then was fed into the telex machine to transmit the story to Boston.
The advent of the personal computer in the last 10 years, however, has greatly altered this process. No longer is a reporter tied to the telex machine in a bureau, hotel, or a post office. She can either work at a personal computer right in her home, or take a laptop computer with her. In either case, the report is sent to Boston by modem over the telephone lines, sometimes, right from the spot where the news is happening.
While almost all copy comes into Boston in this fashion, the old ways are still the last resort. When Monitor staff writer Peter Ford went into Kuwait City with the victorious coalition troops in 1991, all the electrical and phone lines were inoperative. He had to dictate his story to his editors in Boston over a satellite phone generously loaned by a radio network. Staff writer Bob Press, reporting from Somalia, for example, may not always find a modem hookup readily available. And a good deal of copy from freelance writers arrives by fax and is retyped into the Monitor's computer.
As satellite technology and cellular-telephone networks continue to evolve, so will the ways in which writers send their articles into the newsroom.
Once the story is in Boston, the technology used in editing has changed considerably. Traditionally, the desk editor would take the copy, make his edits and corrections in pencil, and send the story on to the copy desk, where it would be edited further, and headlines and photo captions would be added. The copy desk chief, or ``slot,'' then placed the copy in a pneumatic tube and sent it off to the composing room. A linotype operator would ``punch'' the story into his machine, which would generate the metal type. If the story was too long or too short, an editor would be summoned; extra leading was added to stretch the story, or paragraphs were eliminated to trim it. This process now takes place entirely on computers, involving far fewer people, and stories electronically whiz around the newsroom among editors and makeup operators. A new editing system planned for installation in the near future will mean all the work will be done on one network, rather than two, as is now the case.
Instead of hot type, or even computer-generated camera-ready print, pages are now assembled on computer screens in makeup and then sent to electronic pre-press for color processing. Until 1960, when remote printing began, the Monitor was printed at the Christian Science Publishing Society in Boston and mailed from here to subscribers. Today, pages are sent digitally by phone lines and satellite to lasers located at printing plants in Norwood, Mass., and Phoenix. These lasers produce the four negatives for each page, which are then chemically transferred to printing plates mounted on the press. The printed newspapers are flown to more than 30 cities in the US and Europe, from which they are mailed to subscribers.
The promise of future technology may lie in a better delivery system for the paper. Perhaps subscribers will receive it on an electronic screen or via a small printer in their home. But whatever technology is used to report, edit, and produce the paper, one thing will not change: It will still be the newspaper that Mary Baker Eddy founded ``...to injure no man, but to bless all mankind.''