With Journalist, you create your own daily newspaper

HOME COMPUTING

May 09, 1994|By MICHAEL J. HIMOWITZ

One of the problems with the so-called information highway is that there's so much information there -- far more than any human can filter or absorb.

This is one reason why, despite much hand-wringing in my corner of the world, a computer or desktop gizmo will never replace your daily newspaper.

Not that software and hardware makers won't try. In fact, a new product called Journalist from PED Software, which ties into the Prodigy information service, is a well-conceived, ambitious and innovative effort to produce a daily electronic newspaper tailored to your tastes and interests.

Journalist hides a sophisticated combination of desktop publishing, communications and data base management software behind a point-and-click interface that will reward you day after day -- if you're willing to put the effort into designing just the kind of newspaper you want.

Traditional newspapers have long served as vehicles to filter and organize the information available on the data highways of the world and present it in a format that the average reader can understand and absorb.

Besides gathering news themselves, newspapers have tapped into information networks for years -- largely through wire services that dump thousands of stories and zillions of bytes of financial data into their computer systems every day.

Because newsprint is expensive and readers' time is limited, newspapers can offer only a fraction of this information. So editors choose the news they present very carefully, trying to provide a mix of stories that are important, interesting and entertaining. But the something-for-everyone approach may not satisfy those who want deeper daily coverage of specific subjects.

The growth of personal computing and popularity of Prodigy, CompuServe, America Online, Dow Jones and other electronic information services have the potential to change that equation by providing users with direct access to those huge data bases of information.

Unfortunately, the average person doesn't have time to sort through it all. This is why a program like Journalist is compelling. It gathers the information people want and puts it into a format -- the daily newspaper -- that they understand.

The latest version of Journalist requires an IBM-compatible computer running Microsoft Windows, a subscription to the Prodigy Information Service, Prodigy's Windows software and a 9600 baud modem.

How it works

Here's how it works. Using basic page layout software, you design a newspaper section front, or a series of section fronts, laid out in frames for different categories of news. To get started quickly, you can choose from a half-dozen templates or let Journalist's design assistant walk you through the process by asking you questions about the kind of news you want.

There are 24 news categories, including Headline News, Politics, Economy News, International Business, Baseball, Computers, Science, Travel and Home. You can also create frames to display the latest price quotes of stocks you select, performance graphs for the 30 Dow Jones industrial average securities, scores and schedules for your professional sports teams, and local, regional, or national weather forecasts and maps.

If you're interested in business news, you can set up a frame that will display stories about specific companies or industries -- which makes Journalist a particularly good tool for investors and businessmen.

You can also select the news "depth" for each frame, which tells Journalist how many stories you want in each category, and how far back to go.

By desktop publishing standards, the layout software is simple but effective enough. The layout extends only to the first page of each section. Additional stories and jumps are printed across the full width of succeeding pages.

Once everything is set up, just tell the program to fill the newspaper. You can decide to update the entire layout, or just specific news frames. Journalist dials Prodigy and downloads your news -- at your command or automatically at scheduled times, such as while you're getting dressed in the morning. It will automatically print the paper afterward or let you browse through the information on screen.

Watch stories flow

If you're really bored, you can watch the stories flow into the page, but even at 9600 baud, this can take a while. And printing takes almost as long. This makes it advisable to keep your electronic paper as tight as possible and use it only for specific types of news that aren't available elsewhere or would benefit from continuous updating.

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