File under: future archival silences

Just because it’s online, doesn’t mean it will be permanently preserved. Why would it be? And even if a digital copy is kept, just throwing it on a drive doesn’t mean it will be accessible later on.

This is a useful example based on the experience of a journalist:

By the time Vaughan started working at the Rocky Mountain News, the paper had an electronic archive. You couldn’t see just how the story appeared that day, but you could read the text. And Vaughan saved less and less. He grabbed copies of his coverage of the Columbine shootings. He saved big packages. And he assumed his work would always exist online.

But when the Rocky Mountain News closed in 2009, its website also eventually crumbled away. With it went Vaughan’s Pulitzer-nominated series, “The Crossing.” The 34-part multimedia series debuted in 2007 and told the story of a 1961 train and school bus crash that killed 20 children.

The journalist had a version of the series, saved on DVD. With that in hand, he has been able, after a lot of work, to make the articles available online again. Technology wasn’t the only hurdle:

Vaughan spent the next several years trying to get the rights to republish “The Crossing.” The Rocky Mountain News left their archives to the Denver Public Library’s Western History and Genealogy Department. Hammering out a legal agreement with the city of Denver took years. Vaughan wanted to republish the series as it originally appeared, and he wanted it under the Rocky Mountain News’ masthead.

It would be interesting to hear about that from the library’s point of view.

The article includes the perspective of Edward McCain, “digital curator of journalism and founder of Dodging the Memory Hole at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute and University of Missouri Libraries’ Journalism Digital News Archive” and closes with some advice for journalists on how to better ensure the preservation of their output. It would have been nice if in his advice McCain had encouraged journalists to consider donating their papers to an appropriate repository and to begin those conversations as early as possible. Still, reasonable advice to get people started, and a very compelling example that might make journalists sit up and take notice.




File under: future archival silences

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