‘Losing a piece of you’: The fragility of digital news archives
In 2002, The Columbia Missourian received a shock when it lost a significant portion of its digital archives. A server crash wiped out 15 years of precious and painstaking work of journalists, photographers and editors. The data loss also weakened the paper’s link to the who, how, what, when and why of changes in mid-Missouri during that period. The community lost a treasure trove of cultural heritage: announcements of births, deaths, weddings, human interest narratives and investigative reports. The journalists lost the work they had labored over passionately. And the Missourian lost 15 years of itself.
“It’s like losing a piece of you,” says Tom Warhover, executive editor for innovation at the newspaper, recalling the incident. It was a rude awakening for the newspaper and time to learn a lesson too. Preservation, more specifically digital news preservation, became the buzzword. For the Missourian it is no longer a phantom that lurks in shadows; digital calamity has struck once, and urgent steps are needed to mitigate its threat.
The origins of the Journalism Digital News Archive are rooted in this idea: Born-digital news content is inherently fragile and needs immediate attention, understanding and action if it is to survive for the long-haul.