Starting from the early ’90s, analog media began transitioning online. The Internet opened previously unheard of possibilities for transferring information quickly and cheaply, thus creating an unprecedented stream of information available almost instantaneously. Newsrooms embraced a wealth of new technologies: Web browsers, HTML, XML, digital photography, social media, and mobile applications, to name a few. Research shows that the amount of digital data in modern world doubles every 12 to 18 months. As formats and digital devices evolve, it becomes harder to process and store the volume of information produced.
The problems surrounding preservation of and access to digital news archives are systemic, stemming from a combination of frequently changing factors. The types of data used in the news business depend on software, operating system, storage structure, technical metadata and other standards that are continuously evolving, rendering many of the old forms of content preservation obsolete in the process. Thus, all born-digital news content, such as text, digital video and photo, HTML pages, interactive infographics, journalism databases, RSS feeds, are at risk.
In 2002, a Columbia Missourian server crash wiped out 15 years of text and seven years of photos. The archive was contained in an obsolete software package that effectively prevented cost-effective retrieval. Unlike content digitized from analog media, born-digital has no physical surrogate to serve as a fallback.
A recent survey found that U.S. newspapers plan to maintain their digital news files for approximately five years or less. The disappearance of news, birth announcements, obituaries and feature stories represents a loss of community heritage and identity. This is one of the cultural and economic consequences of the dramatic changes media undergo with the transformation of the marketplace, disrupted by digital technologies.
The University of Missouri has unique resources and expertise to tackle the problem of preserving born-digital news content. The enormous content loss at the Columbia Missourian serves as a potent and continuing lesson about the need for digital preservation in the newsroom. In addition, RJI holds a great photojournalism collection from the Pictures of the Year International (POYi) contest. In addition, the Missouri School of Journalism holds photo collections from the Missouri Photo Workshop and the Angus and Betty McDougall Center for Photojournalism Studies.
The JDNA initiative looks at news archives as assets to be held and cultivated as investments in the future of the news organizations that own them.