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New technology changing ways we deliver news

March 04, 2007|by LIZ THOMPSON

I started in this business just after typewriters went out the door in favor of computers.

I missed - just barely - the atmosphere of a newsroom where smoke hung in the air, coffee got like tar in the pot and typewriter keys pounded on the paper.

That might not sound very pleasant to you, but I've imagined what that was like and I'm really sorry I missed it.

When I stepped into my first newsroom, just a little smoke hung in the air and one of the editors made fresh coffee regularly.

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And on my desk was a computer. It wasn't yet sophisticated enough to check my spelling. It wasn't yet easy to edit something you had written. It took a lot of commands and key shifts to do almost anything.

Twenty-some years later, that computer could be sitting in a museum somewhere. It is a dinosaur.

Looking back, the changes in newspapers began to pick up speed the moment those typewriters went out the door. And those changes, most of which are driven by technology, are like a rocket now, just going faster and faster.

Today, my computer software lets me look at the story a reporter is writing on his or her computer at another desk. My computer is part of my communication system since a growing number of press releases, questions and requests for coverage come via my e-mail. My computer also is my research library since I can go online and look up anything.

My computer is even a picture frame, letting me use a photograph of my grandson as a screen saver.

The copy editors have even more software that lets them lay out the pages on their screens. When they finish a page, it is printed out as a negative, which later is made into a plate that will go on our press.

Pretty impressive stuff if you stop to think about it.

And that rocket just keeps going, picking up speed.

We recently began producing regular podcasts you can listen to online or download. Columnist Tim Rowland has a podcast. The Lifestyle Department has a podcast for Loop and the Sports Department recently started one as well. Each night, the copy editors produce a podcast featuring information about the top stories coming in the next day's newspaper. You can check out all of the podcasts at www.antpod.com.

Wait, the rocket is still going.

A new position has been added to the staff I supervise. Dustin Lawyer joined our staff last month as the videographer.

You won't see his work in the newspaper, but you can view it online at www.herald-mail.com.

We put our first newsroom-produced video online on Jan. 16. City Hall reporter Dan Dearth took video during the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at Hagerstown Community College.

Dan, who recently joined the staff, carried a small video camera on his previous job. He recommended some inexpensive cameras that were easy to use and we bought them. Since then, several reporters have shot videos.

Dustin's camera is a little more expensive and has a lot more bells and whistles. He also has experience in editing and can put together very nice videos that are two or three minutes long.

You can look at the videos we've taken by checking out the "multimedia" section of our Web site at www.herald-mail.com. It's on the home page.

I grabbed the fin of the rocket 20-some years ago and I'm still holding on. The journey has been amazing, frustrating, scary and exhilarating. The point of the trip seems to be to keep up with you, the people we hope will look to us for information and entertainment. We are constantly looking for new ways to deliver it.

I can't wait to see where we go next.

Liz Thompson is city editor of The Herald-Mail. She can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7682, or by e-mail at lizt@herald-mail.com.

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