philipp's blog

Europe Times

The year was 2000, and the Hessisch-Niedersächsische Allgemeine (HNA), the local newspaper, made a school project: Whichever group submitted the best "Newspaper of 2020" wins. There were no further restrictions1, and a jury would judge the best submission.

Crafting the Europe Times

My friends and I quickly agreed on the basics: In 2020, newspapers would have a much broader focus than just the local area, hence we dubbed our fictitious newspaper the "Europe Times"2. And it needed to be fully digital.

To put this into context: The HNA, which hosted the challenge itself had no online presence at that point, and internet access was generally not very wide spread in Germany. So "digital" here still meant distribution on a physical medium - we couldn't rely on the judges being able to access an online submission, and securing the web space and a domain for an online project was far from trivial. I, for one, only had access to the Internet for two hours every week, during our school's New Media Club.

So my friends wrote articles and took photos, and I built the magazine itself, full of iFrames and snazzy GIFs3.

Not everyone had a computer at home, and certainly no one had an email address, so getting the articles in a digital format on my PC posed a challenge. I remember handing out green [3 1/2 inch discs] to friends with computers, and typing hand-written articles from friends without.

We had an eye-poppingly expensive, top-notch digital camera at school. You'd pop a disc into the side of the thing and then you'd be free to take 2-3 photos with it. We used yellow discs for photos.

Then we assembled the final thing, disk by disk, on the one school computer equipped with a CD burner. We burned a CD and even designed a jewel case and a sticker for the CD, to give the whole thing a professional look. I worried that the jury would be full of computer illiterates, so I built an executable file that would open the magazine in a browser automatically after the user has put the CD into the tray4.

What Future Looks Like

We lost, plain and simple. The winning team (cleverly) took a page of a 2000 issue of the HNA, changed the date and replaced all articles on that page with articles from 2020. That was no small feat given the technical means of 2000 and very well done. What really irked us, though, is that the jury specifically chose this submission because - of course! - the newspaper of 2020 would look exactly like it did in 2000.

I'm not ashamed to admit that it fills me with grim satisfaction that our vision of newspapers in 2020 was much closer to the reality than the winning team's, and I firmly believe that the mindset expressed by the verdict is closely related to how newspapers failed to adapt to the realities of the internet.

It still was a fun project, though.

  1. That I can remember, that is.

  2. English Grammar wasn't our thing - it should've been the European Times, of course.

  3. The one I was most proud of built up the Flag of Europe, star by star, around the phrase "Europe Times". Then, the German flag appeared below the words as well - we meant to imply that there were editions for other European countries as well.

  4. Computer Security was different back then.