Teletext News: Behind the Scenes

I started Teletext News in August of this year. In the current landscape of Twitter, especially, it apparently looks like a bot to some people. Teletext News is not a bot. I make it through a very manual process before my morning commute — unless I’m sick or running very late. A couple of people have asked me how I make it, so I thought I’d put together a little overview.

I’m American and teletext was never much of a thing here, so I’ve not had the pleasure of experiencing teletext when it was live on actual TV. But, as someone born in the early 80s, I very much enjoy the retro feel and look of older technologies like teletext.

Please keep in mind that this is not meant to be a guide to how to make a teletext project, just an overview of how I create my own. However, I do encourage you to mess around with a teletext editor. It can be a lot of fun!

Overview

To gather information for Teletext News, I read the news from multiple sources, and check the presidential poll results and weather on the New York Times website. I use the obscure commands of a teletext editor to write the news and change the colors of a template I have saved. After I’m done, I take a screenshot of the finished project, crop it, and manually upload the day’s edition to Twitter, Facebook, Medium and Tinyletter, a newsletter. (I then scramble to finish getting ready and go outside to catch a PATH train.)

Step 1: news gathering and checking the weather report

The US presidential elections are underway, of course. I started off using poll results from the New York Times’ election forecast for no particular reason other than I happened to be reading it at the time. I’ve stuck with that particular poll for the sake of consistency.

Teletext News has only one single news story each day it’s updated and I consult multiple sources to write it. I read through the headlines of at least two sources, but sometimes as many as five or six. I only consult publications or agencies that I consider reputable. Those include:

  • AP
  • BBC
  • The Guardian
  • The LA Times
  • The New York Times
  • NPR
  • Reuters
  • The Washington Post

My approach is to try to find the biggest news story of the day. On days when a single big story isn’t immediately apparent to me, it basically comes down to what I consider to be interesting, personally. I guess that’s the luxury of not being an actual news source.

One note on US centricity: It’s naturally tempting to make Teletext News’ headline US-centric, because I’m an American and that’s what I know and hear about the most. But I do try to focus on the global news. I don’t presume to have a strictly American audience for this project, particularly because teletext essentially didn’t happen in the US and the culture around it is much more British. That’s also why there’s Celsius in the weather.

Step 2: updating

The US presidential poll results, headline, weather and the date all get written manually by yours truly. I simply type over the previous day’s news.

The teletext editor I use is edit.tf, created by Simon Rawles. There’s a readme on Github and this video tutorial by Carl Attrill is helpful.

One can only “save” edit.tf projects by holding on to the URL, so I have the URL of the basic template I created for this project in a TextEdit doc. Browser history is also handy. I update Teletext News in Safari.

Step 3: colors

The template for Teletext News was created when I first messed around with edit.tf in late August. For the post part, it’s stayed the same, though I’ve changed the look of the title once or twice. (To do that, I basically search for examples of teletext titles from the 70s to 2012 for inspiration. The current title was based off an image of an early 2000s ITV teletext news screen.)

The available colors are red, green, blue, cyan, magenta, yellow, white, and black. That’s all you get. I enjoy this constraint, and I’ve added another one: I do my best to avoid having the exact same color palette within a four-day period. I manually write over the previous day’s color codes, adjusting their placement to whatever part of a headline makes most sense to emphasize.

After I’ve written the big headline, updated the weather, changed the date, altered the colors, and appropriately emphasized the text, Teletext News is essentially done. There’s one final edit to make, then it’s screenshot time.

Step 4: final edit

There is no spellcheck in a teletext editor. I look through the day’s update to make sure it’s typo-free (sometimes asking my husband to take a look after I do). I make sure I’ve updated the date, too, which I have definitely forgotten to do at least once.

Step 5: cropping and uploading

I screenshot the final product, crop it in Preview, and manually upload that image across the services I use to share Teletext News with the world.

I’m not ignorant of the fact that there are probably more automated ways I could be doing all of the parts in this last step, but the set-up would be a bit of a hassle. Besides, Teletext News is all about painstaking manual labor. The manual process gives me space in my day to breathe and to think. After all, I’m a human.


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