Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Pong Game of Online News

The only certainty about choosing new media as a career path in the early 80s was the uncertainty of it all. You could never be sure where that road was going to lead. For example, in 1983 I never imagined it would lead me to a classroom at Texas Christian University teaching electronic publishing as an upper-level journalism course.

TCU was well known for its communications programs and there was no more striking evidence of that than the just-opened J.M. Moudy Building for Visual Arts and Communications, a modernistic glass-and-steel structure that housed art, broadcast and journalism. So maybe it shouldn't have been surprising they would be among the first universities in the country to offer a course in electronic publishing.

When they asked me to teach it as an adjunct professor, I was both flattered and somewhat concerned. One, I had no prior experience as a teacher and two, between running StarText and fatherhood, my time was somewhat at a premium. But once again the lure of pioneering something new won out.

It helped I had great support from the faculty, including Dr. Jerry Grotta, a seasoned researcher, a former reporter and editor (even a linotype operator -- Jerry did it all) who helped a newbie teacher get his bearings. Now mostly retired from teaching, he maintains his research business and reflected recently on those times:

"Yes, I think about StarText often. Students and faculty members standing outside the windows of what was our first stab at a computer lab, reading StarText on that television screen as the words slowly marched across the [display]. And when I told the people about it at an API seminar I conducted, they were very interested in StarText and had never seen anything like it.

"And of course our focus groups evaluating StarText. I consider it the Pong game of online news. Still fascinating in retrospect. Twenty-seven years or twenty-seven million years in cyberspace time. Wow, what a strange trip this has been!"

Strange indeed. I continued teaching electronic publishing for the next three years until the demands of my day job became too much. If you can find it, there was a journalism textbook authored at TCU during that time that included several pages on StarText with screen shots.

Almost from the beginning StarText was no stranger to the classroom. How StarText found its way into over 200 Metroplex schools ... that's another story.