At least a couple Wick publishers were approached recently about a research project, and it turns out that it could provide us all with interesting information.
Edward McCain leads the Journalism Digital News Archive at the Reynolds Institute at the University of Missouri. He has won a Knight Challenge Grant to study small newspaper archives. Specifically, he wants to determine the value of all those stories, photos and advertisements that we lovingly upload onto the World Wide Web.
He asked – and was granted – permission to comb through data Wick Communications stores on TownNews servers. It’s an unusual request, which is why I wanted to talk to him about it.
He’s particularly interested in what he calls “digital born” content, which is distinguished from stuff that newspapers may have scanned from old newspapers. He thinks this journalism from the digital age has a value and that it would be a shame if it were lost. …
This turns out to not be an idle concern. He says one third of American newspapers have lost significant portions of their digital archives over the years. It happens because software becomes obsolete while no one is looking. It happens because newspapers like ours change content management system vendors without thinking first of what would happen to their archives in the old system. It happens because servers crash. It happens because no one cares or sees the value in these archives.
McCain thinks the things we write about have an intrinsic value for our industry, for historians, for society at large. He thinks if he can ultimately assign a value to that held by the industry at large and our many units that we can make something of that value.
It sounds perhaps a little esoteric. But consider what your archives are worth to you. How often do you look at them? How often are they searched by readers?
I’m glad McCain is looking into our past and hope that it provides clues to our future. I’ll relay more as I learn more.