David Hanson, sports writer for the Des Moines Register & Tribune, beats his deadline nearly all the time now, even when an evening game runs overtime. He does this right at the sporting event with a 28-pound, Texas Instruments "portable word processor."
He taps out his story on this typewriter-like machine. When he's finished, he couples the word processor into a telephone and starts it up. the device transmits the story to his newspaper office computer system faster than he could have dictated it to a so-called "rewrite man."
Portable word processors are part of a telecommunications revolution that not only is benefiting newspapers but also other businessmen. It enables them to get reports or other information to their head offices quickly and accurately.
ABout the sze and weight of a portable typewriter, these machines are much more sophisticated. A person can write his message on it, edit it, transmit it, or receive printed communications over the telephone, and do it more cheaply than sending telex messages. The messages are not just sentences and paragraphs , either. The processors can also store and retrieve graphs, actuarial tables, and charts.
If a hockey or basketball game ends in a tie calling for overtime, or a baseball game enters extra innings, Mr. Hanson's copy covering the event is not afforded the same luxury. He can't miss his 10:30 deadline. The story might not get in the next day's paper, or worse, leave out the final results.
But then portable word processors became standard equipment for sports writers at his newspaper and did what all coaches have wanted to do at times -- stop the clock. Using a portable terminal at a sporting event means Mr. Hanson has until 10:25 to finish his story. "I gained 25 minutes more coverage [time] and could phone in fairly clean copy," he reports.
Business people can carry portable word processors with them the way they carry attache cases. They can be used in airports, hotel rooms, conference sites -- wherever there is a telephone and an electric outlet.
Interface, or connecting, attachments, known as "rabbit ears," allow users to place a normal telephone receiver into two acoustically sensitive cup-shaped rubber couplers. Transmission of data then occurs from one terminal to another.
They can also give people access to information stored in the home office computer. And directives to salespersons can be coordinated and updated daily.
for a reporter in the field, a portable terminal becomes a "little wire service," while an insurance agent can figure rates and print an individual policy on the spot.
Two machines dominate the small but rapidly expanding portable terminal market -- the Silent 765 by Texas Instruments (TI), and Scrib by Bobst Graphic Division of J. Bobst & fils. The Scrib, considered more sophisticated than the TI Silent 765, sells for $6,000, twice the price of the TI Silent 765.
One major difference between the two is the 4-by-6-inch video screen for display in the Scrib. It has "split screen" capabilities. One side of the screen will display stored information, the other, the text as it is typed on the screen.
To counter the video display capacity in the Scrib, Texas Instruments has introduced Data Entry Validation Option (DEVO). It allows the sender to proofread and edit the script on the terminal before transmitting -- a necessity for processors used by newspapers.
The first major market to be carved out by either manufacturer was the news-gathering busines.The Washington Post opted for the Scrib. They purchased two and have options on 16 more.
The Des Moines Register & Tribune Company owns 65 Silent 765s. According to Jim Marchant in the Register wire room, the paper finds them "far exceeding our expectations." When sportwriters realized they could "type, edit, and send their stories a half hour after an event right from the press box," the terminals sold themselves for the Register.
Another option is "character mapping." It allows the system to search through the text and "find" any desired symbol or word which needs to be identified, changed, or corrected.
Should different price quotations be required in the details of a standardized contract or life insurance policy, for instance, character mapping can substitute the desired figures for the old ones without retyping the entire contract.
Teleram is the newest contender in the portable terminal field. Its P-1888, weighing only 27 pounds, is crammed with features such as a 14,000-word storage memory, a larger video screen, and a feature that allows editing or moving large blocks of copy within the text.
The US Department of Agriculture is funding pilot programs for portable terminals in establishing nationwide commodity exchanges.
Steve Blaine, an account executive with Egg Clearing House, a nationwide wholesale egg brokerage firm, praises the "accuracy, speed, and completeness of the TI 765." Electronic marketing of egg commodities "gives personnel in the field accurate pricing information from the two nationwide pricing sessions each day, with the thoroughness and speed a phone conversation could never match," he says.
The portable processors lowered their phone bills, Mr. Blaine says, because the data was transmitted faster than by conversation.
The greatest potential market for portable word-processor lies in the electronic transfer of mail. Managers, editors, and administrators could easily reach key personnel, as long as they are within reach of a phone, with one memo placed in the home office computer. It would take hours of calls to duplicate this instant process.