An eerily prescient 1994 vision of the 2010 iPad. When newspaper people calmly planned for a future their leaders didn’t have the courage to build.

Technology changes and, yes, shit does happen. But people with foresight, flexibility and courage do not have to be overwhelmed by it.

There was a time when visionaries in the news business understood what was going to happen and determined to be a part of it, to mold it to their industry’s benefit and to society’s.

I remember following the exciting ideas that were coming out of Knight Ridder’s lab in the 1990s; I was awed by their vision, and talked it up among my colleagues.

But industry leaders, more concerned with sustaining irrationally high quarterly profits than with building a viable future — and also lacking both vision and courage — dropped the ball. They shuttered the Knight Ridder lab, and eventually bankrupted Knight Ridder and the rest of the newspaper industry.

[CLARIFICATION: A commenter below correctly states that Knight Ridder itself did not declare bankruptcy. What happened was that Knight Ridder was saved from the brink by McClatchy in 2006, after which Knight Ridder’s remains helped bring McClatchy to the brink. Meanwhile, some Knight Ridders papers, after being quickly unloaded by McClatchy onto someone else’s shoulders, actually did go bankrupt.

[While hope springs eternal, the industry itself is largely “bankrupt” even if all its members are not in court and some are still making money; the sooner everyone accepts this reality as a fact, the sooner we can reorganize for the future.]

On this 13 minute video, listen to Roger Fidler, who led team at the Knight Ridder lab, as he says — and remember, this was made 16 years ago:

“There are many people who believe that newspapers are dinosaurs and that they’re going to become the roadkill on the information superhighway in the not-too-distant future. We believe exactly the opposite.”

Listen to Fidler and his colleagues — notice their calm self-assurance — and weep for what might have been.

Last May, when Amazon introduced its souped-up Kindle DX (with the ability to hold 3,500 newspaper pages), Bloomberg interviewed Fidler.

“There were people talking even then about the death of newspapers and there would be some electronic medium that would replace ink on paper,” he said.

From the Bloomberg report:

Fidler and his colleagues spent about three years trying to create an electronic tablet that could download newspapers and magazines. With the death of James Batten, Knight Ridder’s chairman at the time, the project fizzled and the 10-person lab was shut down, according to Fidler…

“When the lab was shut down, I think a lot of people took that to mean newspapers weren’t interested in the concept,” he said. “Technology companies and publishers focused their attention on the Web.”…

McClatchy Co. bought Knight Ridder, the publisher of the Miami Herald, in 2006. Fidler, 66, is now the program director for digital publishing at the Donald Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

Peter Tira, a McClatchy spokesman in Sacramento, California, had no comment.

When Amazon’s Kindle DX was introduced last year, Fidller said, “I am thrilled this is finally happening. It’s vindication for all the years when people said this was a crazy idea and it wouldn’t work.”

Remember Fidler and the Knight Ridder lab when you buy your iPad on April 3.

—Ed Weintrob

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3 responses to “An eerily prescient 1994 vision of the 2010 iPad. When newspaper people calmly planned for a future their leaders didn’t have the courage to build.

  1. Newspaper Reader

    “They shuttered the Knight Ridder lab, and eventually bankrupted Knight Ridder and the rest of the newspaper industry.”

    Dude, get your facts straight. Knight Ridder didn’t go bankrupt. It was purchased by the McClatchy Company. A company NOT bankrupt. Yes, some newspapers have gone bankrupt, but the MAJORITY of US newspaper remain profitable viable businesses. Check out companies lke McClatchy (NYSE:MNI), Belo, Gannett, Scripps, Hearst to name a few.

  2. Newspaper Reader

    “But industry leaders, more concerned with sustaining irrationally high quarterly profits than with the building a viable future and lacking both vision and courage, dropped the ball.”

    Give me a break. If only life were as simple as you see it. You negate truths such as newspapers’ creating and owning leading sites such as Careerbuilder, Cars.com and Apartments.com.

    As far as a I see it, newspapers don’t need to manufacture nor compete at the device level. It’s not a core competency. They need to learn how to make money engaging devices with compelling content that maximizes benefits of said devices.

  3. editedbrooklyn

    See clarification after paragraph two of today’s post. — Ed W

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