#SaveNews While It’s Still On The Web

November 25th, 2014

By Scott Reed, Partner Specialist

There's been a few changes in the world of news production and preservation in the past century. Photo: Double Octuple Newspaper Press by Sue Clark https://www.flickr.com/photos/perpetualplum/

There’s been a few changes in the world of news production and preservation in the past century. Photo: Double Octuple Newspaper Press by Sue Clark https://www.flickr.com/photos/perpetualplum/


Newsrooms across the country are closing, leaving many city halls without journalists on the watch. Those that do remain operate on quickly shrinking budgets. It is no surprise then that long term digital preservation is not at the top of the agenda for these struggling newspapers. On November 9th and 10th concerned archivists, librarians, journalists, educators, and more converged at the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri for the Dodging the Memory Hole Forum to discuss and develop strategies to preserve born digital journalism. How do we as a community of organizations and professionals engaged daily with preservation and access to valuable cultural resources make born digital news a priority, and better yet, collaborate with publishers and content producers to make this a reality? This was the question at the heart of the forum.

Through break-out sessions and “fish bowl” conversations strategies and messaging were brainstormed. In many of my groups, horror stories of lost files and misguided decisions by web developers and designers prevailed. While it was clear that these failures, which may have resulted in the permanent loss of important cultural and political heritage, could be very important in communicating the need for increased resources and energy towards digital preservation in news, it was also agreed that we need real life examples of successes to develop best practices and models for moving forward.

A presentation about the transfer of archives from Rocky Mountain News to the Denver Public Library served as one such example. After the unfortunate sudden closing of the newspaper, the owning corporation started the process to move the newspaper’s archives to the library, including handing over the copyright of the materials. In addition to physical archives there also existed born digital files from the newspaper and its journalists, creating a considerable challenge for the library. Adding to the stress was the time period in which the transfer could take place. Jim Kroll, manager of Western History and Geneology Department, Denver Public Library had to collect materials from the newsroom as it’s former employees watched.

The panel shared relevant documents to help illustrate the legal agreements between the institutions that made the transition possible. While successful, there are still unanswered questions and challenges that were shared by James Rogers, Senior Special Collections librarian, including what to make of the the website “archive”, which was simply a backup of a former version of the site on a hard drive. This shows that while the project as a whole placed important cultural history and award winning journalism into the hands of a trusted institution working for the public good, more could have been done over the years preceding the closure to prepare for moments like these. Of course, we can never know far enough in advance when an archive will be helpful or necessary. But we can agree that much of this content is precarious and in many cases of web content, ephemeral.


Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri

I gave a short lightning talk on Archive-It, attempting to differentiate the service, which is focussed on curated collections of archived content from the web, from the Global Wayback at Archive.org. Many newspapers and news organizations have found their earliest websites lost, or perhaps stuck on a hard drive with few resources to turn sometimes random files in incomprehensible file structures into a functioning web archive similar to Rocky Mountain News. Looking through archive.org, many of these organizations see the only trace of these lost sites, a retroactive search for their web archive.

And yet, there is an incredible opportunity to capture this content today before it is lost. Many Archive-It partners, from Universities to local historical societies, are actively archiving news websites using our service. In addition our Spontaneous Event Collections primarily archives news media around important national and global events. Managing a web archive means being able to determine when and how much is archived, and ensuring the quality of the archive before it’s too late.

There is still room for this community, engaged with preservation and very aware of it’s benefits, to learn more about web archiving and understand the differences between “backing up” or preserving text and image files that may end up on the web, from a fulling functioning web archive that allow patrons to browse and experience a website as it once existed on the live web. The value of such an archive could have benefits beyond just the library and archives community, including the news and publishing industries. We look forward to hearing how these conversations continue and participating in future projects that ensure news is saved for future generations.


You can watch recorded video of many of the sessions from the event here.