Punch in ’94: Who needs info superhighway?
The speech in question, which essentially writes off the Internet as anything for publishers to worry about, was given in May, 1994, in Kansas City by Arthur (Punch) Ochs Sulzberger, the chairman of the New York Times Co. and father of the company’s current chief executive, AOS Jr.
Fitzpatrick, who blogs at JimmyC Says, got the text from former colleague Julius Karash, who covered the speech for the KC Star and hung on to the transcript for all these years. The entire talk is published at Fitzpatrick’s blog, but here are a few gems from it:
:: “Newspapers are here to stay. They are not going the way of the dinosaur – rendered extinct, in this case, by the wonders of a new technology that will speed us down an interactive information superhighway of communications.”
:: “For a long time to come, this information superhighway, far from resembling a modern interstate, will more likely approach a roadway in India: chaotic, crowded and swarming with cows. Or, as one might say, udder confusion.”
:: “A computer can easily assemble…information from many sources. But this compilation is a far cry from a newspaper…. Raw news will do just fine if you’re a computer buff and want to play editor. But I, for one, would rather let a professional take the first raw cut at history and spend my leisure time fishing.”
:: “Judgment, serendipity and something left over to wrap the fish – all neatly folded, in living color, and thrown at no extra cost into the bushes. All for just a few cents a day. It’s called a newspaper.”
:: “Who needs that elusive interactive information superhighway of communications?”
In fairness to Mr. Sulzberger, lots of people were skeptical about the prospects for the Internet in 1994. So, it is fair to ask whether I was any more insightful at the time than Sulzberger. The answer is yes, sort of.
At the time of this speech, I was the chief operating officer of a national cable company deciding on whether to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in capital projects to rewire our systems to upgrade channel capacity.
Responding to the wise counsel of engineering wizards Ken Wright and David Large, I was persuaded to spend tens of millions of extra dollars to put thick, fiber-optic bundles into each project to equip them to carry what we then called “future data services.” We didn’t know enough to call it the Internet. But, thanks to Wright and Large, our newly rebuilt systems were ready when the web took off.
I took off myself by the end of 1995, forsaking the cable business to join the first of three Internet start-ups in Silicon Valley where I served as CEO. Although I had no idea exactly how things would turn out, I had little doubt we were on to something revolutionary.Nothing has happened in the intervening years to change my mind.