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After op-ed, NOP-ed!

By Nancy ByamNancy Byam, a news writer turned technical writer, currently works for Stratus Computer Inc. in Natick, Mass. / December 30, 1981



Computer language has this word: NOP. NOP means ''no operation.'' NOP is a valid computer language statement that exists only to cause program execution to continue (''fall through'') to some other operation. NOP itself causes absolutely nothing to occur. A compiler (computer language translator) recognizes NOP, calls it a token, and moves on.

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Imagine a press policy based on a new reading of the old principle that some human statements are best treated as NOP, ''no operation,'' causing nothing to occur. We recognize such statements and move on! We can implement this policy (all the news that's really fit to print) with the conceptual and operational help of computers. One result would be to deglamorize assassins, terrorists, and other criminals by sticking to facts and eliminating unworthy publicity.

To illustrate such a press policy, imagine a syndicated, computerized news service prepared and distributed daily by wire. Each day the computer checks news items submitted by correspondents throughout the world against a ''bad actor'' file prior to wire-service transmission. If the subject of any news item does not match an entry in the bad actor file, the item is printed for transmissionover communication lines.

For example, at this point in time, the program would find no entry named ''Betty Ford'' in the bad actor file, since Betty Ford has committed no known violent crime. Therefore, the wire-service would transmit a news item about Betty Ford (subject) skiing in Vail, Colorado. (Whether or not this item finds its way into today's local news format is an editor's choice.)

On the other hand, if the subject of any news item matches an entry in the bad actor file, the program interrogates whether or not the subject has been conclusively tried in court or not. If not, the program rejects this news item. If yes, trial results are indicated for the bad actor, and the news item is printed for transmission over communications lines.

In other words, this really-fit-to-print news program is designed to assure that a bad actor gets publicity only on the days s/he is legally processed. Call it NOP-ed to echo the familiar op-ed of commentary pages opposite the editorial page.

The program uses two input files: the file called news-in contains summary news items (called records) submitted by press staffers throughout the world; the file called bad actor contains bad actor records, e.g. summary information about known violent criminals. The program produces an output file called news-out that contains wire-service news summaries.

By flushing NOPs from news summaries prior to transmission, such programs can facilitate editorial decisionmaking as well as reduce the amount of summary news copy editors are currently required to review.

The bottom line, however, is that I am spared nonsensical, daily doses of the intimate lives and thoughts of persons whose destructive acts currently earn them sustained, persistent media attention.

As a reader, I don't attach one bit of importance to a would-be assassin's personal agenda, his family life, motivations, friends, and opinions. Likewise, the proposed computerized press program would not transmit one bit of such information over communications lines. (''Bit rate'' is the rate at which binary digits, or pulses representing them, pass a given point on a communications line or channel.)

Therefore, I humbly support adoption of technologically feasible programs such as this really-fit-to-print news program in hopes of effectively deleting NOP news items from my daily dosage.