Monday, September 22, 2008

Saving history

As I watch the troubled newspaper world, I find myself with mixed emotions. I take a bit of pleasure watching those papers that have taken such a partisan tone on their news pages pay the price in lost circulation and revenue shortfalls. But in other areas I am concerned. It saddened me to read this “Letter from the Editor” of the NY Sun that ran September 4. In part it reads: Dear Readers of the Sun: This morning I write to you about the future of The New York Sun, which is in circumstances that may require us to cease publication at the end of September unless we succeed in our efforts to find additional financial backing. The managing editor, Ira Stoll, who is one of the founding partners in the paper, and I have shared this news with our colleagues, and we would like our readers as well to be aware of the situation. There are no white knights out there and it appears the worst will happen. The most tragic consequence of a newspaper dying is the loss of its historical articles. Yes there are microfilm copies of my old paper, the Washington Star, but you have to go to the Library of Congress to find them. Today’s researchers don’t have enough time to do that. Even in the digital age when a paper closes, their archives may be lost unless someone comes along to manage them. Google is working on a massive project to digitize all back issues of newspapers in their Digital Archive Project. This will allow researchers to access online previously irretrievable information. Many newspapers have given up maintaining their archives for non employees and gone to outside services on a pay for play basis. Gannett’s is the worst and totally unusable unless you don’t mind going through 13,000 articles to find the result of a three word search. In anticipation of the worst, I have been searching and copying articles from the Sun that may be of historical interest. Four years ago they were the only newspaper to do an in depth analysis of John Kerry’s military status and discharge. This is an outstanding article and you can find it here. I have saved it (I had to copy the text into MS Word). You may want to do the same.

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