Of course by 1981 the big newspapers were already using terminals in the newsroom to write and upload stories. But watching people dialing a rotary phone to connect an acoustic modem -- hilarious. Possibly only 300 baud. And it took 2½ hours to download the whole Electronic SF Chronicle.
"Image not as sexy as the ad." The ad showed an actual newspaper front page on the screen, whereas in reality, it was straight ASCII text. "No photos, no comics, no ads." Well, one out of three ain't bad. Oh, and downloading meant you could print it out and have your own paper copy! So much for the paperless newspaper.
Somewhere in the late 70s, while I was at Northwestern, I listened to the two major factions arguing about the proposals for the 2400 baud modem. Do you need one phone line or two? If you use only one, can you live with 2400 only in one direction? The problem of requiring two phone lines wasn't considered a matter for the home user -- no one will want that much speed at home. NU tested both systems -- you had to dial different lines to access the two systems. This is the problems with not having one standard. It gets expensive to implement.
And some perspective on how out there this was in 1981 -- no IBM PC. No Apple ][. No consumer hard drives. Definitely no Windows, Mac or mice. Laptops are still years away. And forget smart phones and tablets.
So it was news for newspapers to get on the forefront and offer something very few could afford. But there were businesses who were coming to use online.