Text, Translation, and the End of the Unified Press

David Alan Grier


Few industries were as thoroughly transformed by computerization as the newspaper business. Computer composition and computer typesetting restructured the basic organization of the newspaper, refactored control, and encouraged the flourishing newspaper chains of the 1970s and early 1980s. However, electronic distribution radically changed the relationship between advertiser and publisher, and thereby started a decline of the traditional regional paper. As publishers adopted computer systems to manage the flow of information, they generally saw the new technology not as something that would expand the scale or scope of their work but as tools that would translate information from one form into another.


The early computer designers, Neumann, Eckert, Mauchly, Attanasoff, Aiken, and Zuse, gave suggestion that their ideas would have application to the production and dissemination of news. During the period that marked the foundational work on computing machines, which began roughly in 1936 and extended until about 1948, they described their machines as computing devices. Konrad Zuse, who worked in Germany at the start of World War II, was typical of the group when he wrote that his machine “serves the purpose of automatic execution by a computer of frequently recurring computations” (Zuse, 1982, p. 163). Even John von Neumann, who probably had the best grasp of the universal nature of computing, ...

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