Tom Ross: 25 years of technology
August 20, 2014
The natural tendency is to look at a quarter-century of Steamboat Today with the archival evidence — news stories and photographs. But the first 25 years of the daily newspaper also can be viewed through the lens of the changing technology we have used to publish the newspaper.
We didn't tweet from smartphones in 1989.
Looking back on 25 years of your daily newspaper (did I mention that it's still free to readers six days a week?), I sometimes wonder how we ever put out a newspaper without the Internet and email. But we certainly did.
After scanning several thousand back issues of Steamboat Today in helping to prepare this special edition, I was reminded that many of our biggest news stories coincided with a technological breakthrough that changed the way we work and deliver timely news coverage to our readers.
Steamboat Today was fortunate in that former publisher Chuck Leckenby also was a computer retailer through a second business, Pilot Office Supply. He recalled in mid-July that he brought an original Apple II into the newspaper when personal computers were a rarity. That early Apple computer boasted a whopping 16 kilobytes of RAM, but no monitor.
"We connected it to a small television set," Leckenby said.
It wasn't much later, sometime in 1983, that Leckenby purchased Apple IIs, with monitors and 5-inch floppy disk drives for the newsroom. We said goodbye to our typewriters and to the days when a staff of five typesetters had to re-type all of our news stories.
The launch of Steamboat Today in August 1989 marked the first time our newspapers began relying consistently on The Associated Press for coverage of state, regional, national and international news coverage.
One of the major roles of Keith Kramer, the original editor of the Today, was to review the stories available to us on the "wire," as we called it, and make decisions about which stories to download.
One of our slim advantages over The Denver Post and the gone, but not forgotten, Rocky Mountain News was that those papers had to deadline their mountain editions early in order to print them in time to put them on trucks and get them to Western Slope newsstands early in the morning.
That meant that any time the Denver Nuggets were playing on the West Coast, we had a chance to beat the Denver metros in our little market with sports news.
But the technology for downloading the wire stories into our computers was clunky and unreliable to say the least. Many a night, Kramer had to put up with the fact that the "wire was down."
I remember pinch-hitting for him one night when we lost our connection to The Associated Press. I called the Denver Bureau and persuaded a night editor to read a story about a Nuggets game to me over the telephone while I furiously typed it. Kramer had to deal with those crises on his own, week in and week out.
In the early 1990s, I was assigned to learn a new page-designing software called Quark that would drastically change the way we put headlines, stories and photos on the newspaper page. A very talented young graphic designer in our advertising department, Andrew Bisbee, taught me (with great patience) how to lay out newspaper pages on the computer screen. We learned the new software on the fly and quickly left scissors, X-Acto knives and wax rollers behind.
It was email that made it possible for Steamboat Today to deliver us into another era and cover the sensational "Black Widow" murder trial in Hot Sulphur Springs in 1993. The news was delivered by a clunky, external dial-up modem that confounded us. No longer was there a need for an editor to transcribe the story from a fax, and the ability to email stories around the newsroom was part of the foundation of posting news stories directly to the newspaper's website.
Another technological advance that forever changed the way we covered live sporting events was the digital camera. Late in 2001, then-Editor Scott Stanford realized that in order for us to fully capitalize on the opportunity to cover 17 local Olympians at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, we had to acquire the latest professional digital camera and use it to email photographs back to the newsroom.
Photographer John F. Russell was equipped with a Nikon Dh1 with 3.1 megapixels of resolution, something that would be laughable now in an era when consumer cameras commonly have 16 megapixels. For the first time, we sent top-notch sports images from an international event back to the newsroom in Steamboat Springs.
In 2014, as we celebrate 25 years of Steamboat Today, a steadily growing number of our readers get their local news on their smartphones and tablets. And our news team easily alerts readers to wildfires, road closures, election results, sports scores and skiing conditions through an ever-changing Twitter feed embedded in the home page of the online version of the newspaper.
And one certainty, perhaps the only certainty, is that constantly evolving methods of gathering and disseminating information will continue to take Steamboat Today in new directions that we cannot imagine today.