Mecham’s speech sent directly to Gazette computer

I had a technological first while on the staff of Arizona Governor Evan Mecham. In addition to having worked in political public relations, I happened to have had experience in systems analysis and newspaper computer typesetting systems. I knew that newspapers and wire services would use more of the State of the State Address if it was presented to them already typed and stored in the queue. No labor intensive re-keying would mean more of Mecham’s speech would be used, possibly the full text. The Phoenix Gazette, the afternoon smaller partner of the morning Arizona Republic, welcomed my idea.

I talked to the Gazette systems manager and I was given the account log-in for Pat Flannery, a Gazette reporter. The first test transmission from my portable computer failed, but the second test worked beautifully. Later that morning, when Mecham had approved the final version, I transmitted the speech directly into the Gazette’s computers. The full text was published in that day’s Gazette, then moved on Associated Press — something that would not have happened if the Gazette had not had the file in the computer queue.

In the grand scheme of things, this direct feed of a governor’s speech is not that imporant. But, it did occur 25 years ago when most politicians had offices still using typewriters. Few people, especially politicians, understood or cared about the concept of sending the full text of a speech by computer directly to a newspaper. Mecham not only immediately grasped the concept, he encouraged me to explore ways to expand on the idea. But, the governor didn’t remain in office long enough for me to do anything else in this area.

This was not exactly “Watson, come here, I need you” moment, but the following test message in 1988 was certainly among the first instances of direct electronic delivery of a digital file from a politican straight to a newspaper’s typesetting computer system.

— Ken Smith

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[ficislot,test,smith,pat]

Good morning! This is the second test transmission from Ken Smith in the Governor’s Office. (Actually, I’m still at home.) The first test transmission, sent about 7 p.m. last night, was in IBM DCA format and contained numerous garbage characters at your end.

The purpose of these tests is to determine whether it will be possible later this morning to send the full text of the Governor’s State of the State Address directly into the Gazette’s typesetting system.

This text was composed in Word Perfect, then converted to generic ASCII text format. The hardware is a Zenith portable with an internal Zenith modem. The communications software is Hayes SmartCom. This transmission will be at 1200 baud with seven data bits, two stop bits and even parity. I forgot to ask your technician if there should be any special end-of-transmission character string or code, so my end is programmed to disconnect after a few seconds of inactivity.

Time permitting, this text can be embedded with any desired typesetting commands. For example, to indicate paragraphs the Gazette production crew may want some special character to indicate quad left returns and em spaces instead of DOS hard returns and tabs. I can also embed open and close quotes instead of typewriter style quotes if desired.

If you have read this far, the system works. Call Ken Smith at home at 274-1871, or at the office later this morning at 255-1343. End of test.