Wick Communications

Making the most of archives

In journalism on April 20, 2017 at 11:33 am

Crimetime augments its work with stuff from the Providence Journal archives.

What opportunities do your archives present? Might I suggest they are an under-utilized treasure trove that can add context to stories, enlighten new residents, thrill longtime neighbors and perhaps even become a — dare I say it? — revenue stream?

I got to thinking about this after reading Ken Doctor’s post on Nieman Lab.

Doctor, who writes extensively on the media, tells us of the symbiotic relationship between a podcast called Crimetown and the Providence Journal. He says the producers of Crimetown leaned on the Journal morgue for documents and research that it ultimately presented in a newsletter and on its website as extra goodies for fans of the podcast. (The podcast, by the way, has been downloaded 16 million times.)

From the piece:

“Local newspapers are an undeveloped resource,” (said Crimetown co-creator Marc) Smerling, who was nominated for a 2003 Oscar for Capturing The Friedmans. “There is a tendency for newspapers to hold tightly to their libraries. The Providence Journal was smart to recognize that sharing what they’ve collected over so many years was a way to broaden their audience and take ownership of the stories we are telling. It gives them another thing to offer their subscribers and it promotes a forward-thinking development of their brand.”

He’s certainly right about that. I routinely shoo people away from our print archives, which go back to about 1960s. I just don’t know that I want folks rummaging through our history like that. Why? Hell, I don’t know. But when I answer my own question like that, I know I should think again. …At the Half Moon Bay Review, we have taken photos of pages from those dusty old books and run them as #TBT on Facebook and Instagram. We do it for branding purposes, I guess. And because it’s fun. And because it’s funny how little some things change over 50 years.

I sometimes go back and look for anniversaries. I look at this date in history 20 years ago. I look for anything that would make for an interesting story now. Is something still in the news? Was there a cold-case mystery that you could solve anew? (Hey, what if you created a “Serial” style podcast based on some long unsolved mystery that you could research right in your own office?)

What If you lent those musty old books to the local historical society? Maybe the thirst for history is such in your community that you could hold an event based on opening them to the public for the first time. What if you got a sponsor for a “this date in history” column?

Or what if you entered into cahoots with someone like Smerling who had a mind to mine the community’s past using your historical record?

Clay

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